Drywall alternative wins inaugural Penn State IdeaPitch contest

University Park, Pa. — A forthcoming company that will manufacture, market, and distribute a synthetic wallboard alternative to drywall has won the inaugural Penn State IdeaPitch competition, sponsored by Ben Franklin Technology Partners and the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Smeal College of Business.

MG Walls LLC founder Matthew Gross, a Penn State materials science and engineering student, beat out more than 30 teams that initially registered for the contest. His idea and business plan for PolyWall, which he solely researched and designed, took first place out of a field of five ideas that made it to the final round of the competition.

According to Gross' business plan, PolyWall is a new synthetic form of the current gypsum-based drywall wall panel. The product offers customers ease of installation, long life expectancy, fire-resistance, and lower monthly utility bills. It's also a green building product created using partially recycled/reclaimed plastic products. Additionally, PolyWall is designed so that virtually all installation procedures can remain the same, making it attractive to builders and contractors who use traditional drywall.

"Matthew's idea for his business venture has all the elements to make it successful," says Anthony Warren, director of the Farrell Center and the creator of the Penn State IdeaPitch contest. "In addition to engineering a great product, his business plan identifies a market and a strategy for success in that market."

Drafting a plan for success was the ultimate goal of all of the teams in the competition, Warren says. Each of the final proposals had to include a description of the product or service itself, its market and potential competitors, and its customers. Teams also had to include a business model to tell investors how much it will cost and how long it will take to get their idea into the marketplace and generating revenue. Finally, the business proposals had to include a description of the firm's management team, gaps in leadership, a financial account of where the firm now stands, and details describing how backers can expect to get a return on their investment.

Warren designed the competition to allow budding entrepreneurs to form their teams across Penn State via a social networking portal and provide them with the tools, skills, and resources necessary to successfully pitch their ideas to investors, while providing exposure to potential backers.

Second place in the competition went to Uliifi, a Web site that would manage lost and found for large institutions, connecting those who lost property with those who found it to negotiate a return. Sushi Tokyo, a sushi lunch box distribution business based out of Lansdale, Pa., took third place.

James Pietropaolo of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, one of the IdeaPitch judges, says that all of the final five teams in the contest deserve high praise. "I see a lot of presentations in my role within the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership," he told the teams at the end of the competition. "I must really compliment everyone on the quality of your pitches—they were outstanding."

Ideas for the contest were submitted from all over the Penn State community. Teams of students, faculty, and staff initially proposed ideas ranging from a recreation center to a new restaurant to a grocery delivery service.

"The contest was crafted so that it provided a learning process for all of the teams who submitted ideas," Warren says. "Every participant was offered expert feedback on their ideas, business proposals, and pitches. For the winners, there will be resources available to take their ideas further, should they so wish."

The top three teams will share the $1,000 prize money and will be offered other assistance to move their ideas forward. MG Walls is eligible to participate in the Garber Practicum and potentially receive funding from the $5 million Garber Venture Capital Fund, a venture fund managed by Smeal MBA students.

Additionally, because Gross is a Penn State undergraduate, his venture is eligible for office space and assistance from Lion Launch Pad, a nonprofit business accelerator exclusively for Penn State undergrads.

For more complete details on the Penn State Idea Pitch Competition, visit


Matthew Gross (left) and Anthony Warren Credit: Smeal College of Business / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated November 18, 2010