Hobart and William Smith’s student entrepreneurial contest, The Pitch, is back. Now with generous financial support from Stuart Lieblein ’90, The Pitch is gearing up for its third year with its call for student proposals due on Friday, Nov. 8 and its culminating pitch event set for Wednesday, March 12. With the HWS IdeaLab now serving as its preparatory program this fall, The Pitch is poised for another strong year.
For each of the next five years, Lieblein’s contribution will fund the $10,000 grant awarded to the winner of The Pitch. In addition, students participating in the IdeaLab also will be eligible for a $1,000 award if they submit their proposals to The Pitch and make it through to the second round. Up to five students will have the opportunity to receive the award as part of what’s been named The Stu Lieblein ’90 Challenge.
In supporting the programs, which are facilitated through the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL), Lieblein says his goal is to boost entrepreneurial and business-oriented opportunities for HWS students, while giving them the chance to get direct feedback and mentorship on their best ideas.
“The Centennial Center for Leadership is delighted to have the support of Stuart Lieblein, who has taken an interest in developing the ideas of students and has made contributions to the Colleges both financially and through his wisdom and expertise,” says CCL Director Susan Pliner.
For The Pitch, students with entrepreneurial interests submit innovative ideas that change communities, improve systems, and deliver products or services. It is a rigorous learning experience for students as the field of competitors is narrowed through multiple-rounds, spanning six months for the contest finalists. After submitting their initial proposals, semi-finalists are selected and paired with alum mentors who assist students in strengthening and revising their proposals. If invited to the final round of The Pitch, students have the opportunity to showcase their ideas in front of a panel of judges and a live HWS audience for a chance to win a $10,000 grant.
In the IdeaLab, students submit proposals for their best ideas for products, services or organizations. Following an initial review, top proposals are selected to begin a six-week accelerator program that helps students develop their plans. During that time, students join workshops with faculty, staff and alums to refine their ideas. At the end of the workshop series, participants resubmit their proposals so that a student selection committee in coordination with the CCL can allot funding from a pool of $3,000.
In light of today’s marketplace, Lieblein says new graduates increasingly need to have a solid skillset and practical, relevant experience when seeking employment.
“The students involved in these competitions are learning how to formulate a business plan and become entrepreneurs,” says Lieblein, president of Residue National Corp. “The entire process helps them understand how to communicate, how to effectively present their plans, how to succinctly pitch an idea. These are the kinds of programs that will help them get jobs by giving them a leg up on other graduates of liberal arts colleges. This experience is something they can put on their resume.”
On campus, Pliner says that since the launch of The Pitch and the IdeaLab, both programs have boosted student interest in entrepreneurial leadership and innovation. The programs fit within the broader aim of the CCL, which is to help students develop leadership capacities across areas, with focus on community, global and entrepreneurial perspectives.
“It’s not just about the product,” Pliner says. “It’s about taking a leading role in the development of an idea. It’s also a collaborative, creative process where asking important questions about what’s going to work and what’s going to have value is critical for success.”
Currently, The Pitch is seeking proposals for this year’s competition. Completed applications and proposals for The Pitch should be submitted to the CCL by noon on Friday, Nov. 8. “I encourage more students to submit proposals, not only for a chance to win, but also for being a part of a paramount experience,” says Lieblein, who in addition to his support has served on the panel of judges for The Pitch. “All students are welcome to participate. It doesn’t matter what discipline, whether they’re in the sciences, economics or English.”
Now heading into its fifth week, the IdeaLab currently has 10 students developing their plans from an initial pool of 17 proposals. IdeaLab participants this semester include Taylor Anderson ’15, Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17, Hannah Brunelle ’14, Morgan Bungerz ’15, Jenna Davidson-Catalano ’14, Jenna Klicker ’15, Abbey Foote ’17, Dennis O’Connoll ’16, Ryan Tinklepaugh ’16 and Lincoln Young ’14. The IdeaLab student selection committee includes Julie Baghajian ’15, Daniel Budmen ’15, Cece-Carksy Bush ’16, Caroline Connor ’16, Patrick Sharry ’14, Clover Quigley ’15 and Kyle Zaverton ’15.
CCL Associate Director Amy Forbes says that the timeline of the IdeaLab and Pitch was altered this year to provide an opportunity for students to develop their plans and get feedback during the IdeaLab, prior to submitting their proposals to The Pitch.
“The pilot of the IdeaLab went well in the spring, so we decided to change the sequence and move the program to the fall semester,” Forbes says. “Now there is the ability to take these ideas at the earliest stages and build in more time for development with the goal of increasing clarity by the time a student decides to enter The Pitch.”
Forbes says Lieblein has been instrumental through his contributions and direct involvement on campus, helping to propel the programs forward this year. She says the overall support for the programs has been vital, with engagement from alums, parents, faculty and staff. Additionally, Forbes credits students not only for their participation as contestants, but also for being leaders within the programs.
“It’s a great leadership opportunity for all students involved,” Forbes says. “The student committee for the IdeaLab is central and they appreciate the fact that they are helping to provide opportunities to their peers.”
For more information about The Pitch and IdeaLab, visit: http://www.hws.edu/academics/leadership/
The photo above features The Pitch judges Stuart Lieblein ’90 (left) and Duncan Moore, vice provost of entrepreneurship and professor of engineering and business administration at the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration at the University of Rochester.