After months of preparation, “The Pitch” entrepreneurial competition came to a conclusion on Wednesday evening in the Vandervort Room. Finalists Marcela Melara ’12, Samuel Singer ’13 and Sara Wroblewski ’13 pitched their ideas to expert judges, who evaluated the finalists’ proposals and eventually awarded the $10,000 prize to Wroblewski for her One Bead project, which seeks to fund education in Eastern Africa.
“This competition is not only a credit to each individual who participated, but this group of students, collectively, is a huge credit to Hobart and William Smith,” remarked President Mark D. Gearan. “This competition embraces the power of an idea, which is a concept I love – it is a testament to what one person can do.”
“The Pitch” welcomed an esteemed panel of judges, coming from all sectors of the entrepreneurial world. Judges included Executive Director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation Hollis Budd, Co-founder and General Partner of Polaris Venture Partners Terry McGuire ’78, who joined the panel via Skype, JAGTAG Mobile Marketing Partner Javier Saralegui ’80, and Dean of the Simon Business School Mark Zupan.
[President of the Public Education Network Wendy Puriefoy’71 was also set to join the competition as a judge; however, due to inclement weather conditions her flight was delayed.]
“The world is changed every day by entrepreneurs,” said McGuire during his introduction. “There are people with great passion, confronting the problems that need to be solved. These people have the ability to face failure, to learn lessons from them and move on. Entrepreneurs are tremendously important.”
Zupan commented on how we must – and are able to – remain bullish on the future, thanks to the work of entrepreneurs, while Budd remarked on the continued importance of social entrepreneurship for not only her foundation, but the Rochester region and nation as a whole.
Each finalist was asked to present a 10-minute pitch, including details on his or her entrepreneurial idea, an outline for how to run the venture, and ideas for expansion and the future. Judges considered each idea based on innovativeness, viability, thoughtfulness of strategy, and the effectiveness with which the idea was communicated.
Singer had the audience “on board” with his idea for TRAIN Gum, an all-natural, organic and fairly traded chewing gum comprised of only four ingredients wrapped in biodegradable packaging. In his presentation, Singer spoke of his journey into gum-making, and his trials to not only create a sustainable product, but one that was enjoyable to chew. Singer hopes to market his gum in the Boston area to a young, health-conscious demographic.
Melara wowed the panel with her impressive presentation on ELARA: Environmental Liaison and Automated Recycling Assistant, which would create an effective and simple system for recycling. Having lived in Germany where recycling is a way of life, Melara noticed that confusion over sorting in the United States has led to more garbage going to landfills. Using ELARA would allow users to scan their items at a kiosk, engage in an online community of fellow recyclers and earn rewards for their good deed. Melara is currently working on a prototype.
“The first impression I had of the Oloosirkon Government Primary School in Nairobi was that I saw nothing – there was no paper, no pens and no books,” recalled Wroblewski during her pitch. “Seeing the children for the first time, I was introduced to the concept that one could have so little, but still have so much.”
From this experience evolved One Bead, a project that sought to help the school fund developments such as having electricity installed, creating a permanent water supply and attaining locks to keep out intruders. Teaming up with a local glass artist with whom she was interning, Wroblewski helped create a glass bead that symbolized her mission, selling each one at $12.
Each bead is unique – personal and handcrafted – representing unity as well as the disparity between those who have much and those who have little. “The deep desire to learn and the passion for life are already in these students,” said Wroblewski. “It is a matter of providing them with the tools for success.”
Each of the judges carefully considered the pitches, presenting the finalists with hard-hitting questions. Finalists were asked to consider the true business potential for investors, and how they would proceed in protecting their intellectual property. With years of experience, the entrepreneurs on the panel also asked the students to consider the longevity of their ideas, market potential and distribution concerns.
Following a deliberation period, the judges awarded Wroblewski with the grand prize, while all three finalists were granted $750 certificates to aid in entrepreneurial education experiences such as internships or workshops.
“Don’t be afraid to go out there, people want to hear you,” advised Saralegui, who also stressed the importance of finding the absolute best adviser for one’s specific product. “You would be amazed at how eager the world is to help young people; they are enamored with young people’s energy.”
“This is an opportunity to change the world, to inspire new ideas,” remarked Saralegui. “This is the most fulfilling thing you can do – to do something you love, to see it grow. This idea is a part of you, and because of that, you are going to love every single day. You own this, it is about you.”