After months of hard work and stiff competition from classmates, Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17, Morgan Bungerz ’15, John Darby ’14, and Nicole Pastor ’16 will compete in the finals of The Pitch, an entrepreneurial leadership contest for students that is facilitated by the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL).
The Pitch finals will be held at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 12, in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center. A live stream of The Pitch will be available to watch on the HWS website.
Now in its third season, The Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch gives students the opportunity to develop their ideas for products, services and organizations, while working with alum mentors, faculty and staff. The competition culminates in a final round where students showcase their ideas before a panel of judges, vying for a chance to win a $10,000 grant, which serves as seed funding to advance the winning idea.
“The students have done an outstanding job this year. All of the semi-finalists demonstrated a commitment to their ideas. The work ethic of these finalists has especially helped to advanced their learning and allowed them to move their ideas closer to implementation,” says CCL Director Susan Pliner. “It’s going to be a very strong competition this year.”
Pliner says The Pitch stands as a testament to the strength of the liberal arts education at HWS, as well as the capacity of the Colleges to connect entrepreneurial-minded students with the resources they need to get started.
Darby said having access to a mentor has been critical for helping to advance his ideas. Darby says what began as a simple idea for an app, has developed into a online service that addresses larger issues for students who aspire to be an architect.
For Pastor, she said The Pitch is an outstanding venue for students to cultivate ideas and pursue their goals. “You don’t have to fall into some else’s reality,” she says. “You can create your own.”
For the first time in the competition’s history, a student from every class year will compete in the finals. The proposals that will be featured in the final round are as follows:
- Ato Bentsi-Enchill: “RevisionPrep,” which is an online education service that combines exam preparation with simple gaming programs aimed at Ghanaian junior high students.
- Morgan Bungerz: “Wrist Renegades,” which is a wrist protection system that enables cross-training athletes to work out faster, more comfortably, and safely. The product will be the first in a line of apparel for a cross-training program.
- John Darby: “Guest Critique,” which is an online learning management system that provides architecture students the necessary service for submitting designs and portfolios in order to receive constructive feedback from professors and peers.
- Nicole Pastor: “Generation Y,” which is a multi-faceted, web-based brand that gives young adults the capacity to achieve financial literacy through aggregated news, budget tools and financial incentives within a service that reflects their lifestyle, behaviors and interests.
This year’s judges for The Pitch are: Horace Allen ’85, who is founder and CEO of LegacyCreators, a nonprofit social enterprise. Prior to this venture, Allen was the co-founder of Total Solutions Group, an IBM Business Partner technology integrator; Jeffrey Burki ’76, who is a co-founder and LifeCare’s vice chairman & chief strategy officer where he evaluates emerging market strategies; Rebecca Carr ’86, P’17, chief marketing officer at CenturyLink Technology Solutions; Will Margiloff ’92, who is the CEO of IgnitionOne, and co-CEO and founder of IgnitionOne’s parent company, Innovation Interactive; and Trustee Deborah Pilla ’76, a pediatric dentist, affiliated with Lenox Hill Hospital and owner of a private practice.
At HWS, students participating in The Pitch not only get to test their ideas under the guidance of alumni and alumnae mentors, but they also have the option to take part in additional programming designed to help advance their proposals, Pliner says.
The HWS IdeaLab, an idea accelerator program first piloted in spring 2013, was moved to the weeks directly preceding the beginning of The Pitch. This past fall, the newly revamped IdeaLab featured The Stu Lieblein ’90 Challenge, which awarded four IdeaLab students $1,000 for making it to the semi-finals of The Pitch. Winners of the Lieblein ’90 Challenge were Bentsi-Enchill, Bungerz, Dennis O’Connell ’16 and Abbey Foote ’17.
Over the next five years, Lieblein’s support will also fund the $10,000 grant awarded to each winner of The Pitch.
In addition, this year’s Pitch programming included the Innovation Institute, which was offered to all semi-finalist contestants. An intensive five-day entrepreneurial leadership development program, the Innovation Institute included workshops in idea rendering, innovation, branding, marketing, accounting, negotiating and funding strategies from a variety of professionals. All seven semi-finalists returned early from their winter break to participate in the five-day program held at the CCL just prior to the start of spring classes.
As the final four contestants prepare for the last round of competition, they reflected on their own experiences and said that they’ve gained invaluable skills and insights that can be used in their current projects as well as their professional lives following graduation.
“HWS and CCL have really given me the chance to pursue an experience I’m very passionate about,” Bentsi-Enchill says. He says that the support he received allowed him, even as a first-year student, to take a risk on an idea that he believes in.
Bungerz said establishing connections and seeking support is an important step in making an idea a reality. He says in order to launch a successful proposal, the creator needs to be willing to adapt and listen to feedback throughout the development stages.
“One of the most important things I’ve learned is the willingness to let your idea change as necessary,” Bungerz says. “You don’t want to be so rooted that you try to go it alone.”