After considering four carefully crafted proposals for both non-profit and for-profit ventures competing in the annual Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest, the judges returned from deliberations to name Paige Pierce ’17 winner of the 2015 entrepreneurship competition at HWS.
Pierce received a $10,000 check thanks to the support of Stu Lieblien ’90, who generously funded this year’s grant and will do so over the next four years. Concluding its fourth year this March, the Pitch is facilitated by the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL).
Pierce plans to use the funding to develop her company, Orchard Outfitters, a mobile storefront that connects students and fashion by traveling to colleges in the Northeast and selling high-end clothing brands. The company would serve as “a brand ambassador on wheels,” circumventing online shopping and shipping by bringing fashion to campuses and connecting students directly with popular brands and trends.
“All of the presentations were amazing and I really had no clue who would win, but in the end we were all very proud of each other,” Pierce said following the presentation of the check. “I was very surprised that the judges were excited about my idea and thought that it could be implemented and a success. It gave me a huge boost of confidence and I’m just so happy.”
At the contest Lieblein said all of this year’s contestants have been receptive to feedback and critiques in order to produce the best proposals possible. He said that with more applicants, the field becomes increasingly competitive. “Every year they get even better; the way these HWS students prepare for this moment and give professional presentations is impressive.”
Pierce said her family and friends have been a tremendous help over the past six months, but also recognized the staff of CCL, Lieblein and her alum mentor, Bridget Millard ’08, a merchandise manager at Ralph Lauren.
Over the course of the semester-long competition, the Pitch finalists brought their ideas to life under the mentorship of faculty, staff and alums. The final presentations — delivered before a live audience on campus as well as on a live stream reaching alums and the HWS community worldwide — represented the students’ “learning, their academic interests, and their individual passions,” said Susan Pliner, associate dean and the director of the CCL, in her introduction.
“They also reflect the mentoring they have received from so many professors, advisors, staff members and of course their family and friends…The Pitch is a display of our student capacity to innovate and create. It is also a display of our alums commitment to our students,” Pliner said.
Since the inception of the Pitch in 2012, 30 alums have served as mentors and 13 alums have joined the competition as judges. This year’s judges were: Chris Chimicles ’98, President of the Angeion Group; Mehrnaz Vahid-Ahdieh ’85, Managing Director and Head of the Law Firm Group for Citi Private Bank; and Kelly Mittiga ’94, Customer Experience Executive for First Niagara Bank.
In the past, Pliner noted, “Students have developed a non-profit that supports school children in Kenya. They have engineered new sustainable building materials and have begun building their first building. They have opened a vinyl sticker and graphic design business in downtown Geneva. They have created a company to improve high school students’ test scores in Ghana. Our Pitch students continue to impress us. They work hard. They are willing to learn. They courageously stand up before an audience and present their ideas.”
Pliner said the Pitch finalists raised the bar yet again, demonstrating high quality proposals in a manner that shows they were truly prepared to bring their ideas to the next level.
And, as the judges remarked, the entrepreneurial leadership demonstrated by the finalists exemplifies the passion, strategic thinking and value of relationship-building and risk-taking essential to success in business.
“As a liberal arts institution, we pride ourselves on our ability to cultivate innovative, critical thinkers,” said HWS President Mark D. Gearan during his remarks. “Our students at Hobart and William Smith are immersed in an academic environment where thoughtful problem solving, intellectual curiosity and calculated risk-taking are already embraced. In many ways, The Pitch is a celebration of the HWS experience. The contest is a demonstration of HWS values. We believe in ideas that add value. We challenge students to apply their talents towards ideas that will create positive change and add intellectual value to our markets and communities.”
During the intermission while the judges deliberated, Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17 shared with the audience the progress he has made on RevisionPrep, the idea for an online educational service that won him the 2014 Pitch contest.
As the event came to a close, each finalist was awarded a $750 check toward further developing their ideas:
Gloria Garcia ’17 and Sam Solomon ’17: Capitalizing on their passions for food, design, and environmental stewardship, Garcia and Solomon proposed Beehave, a honey manufacturing company, tasting bar and storefront, to embrace the beauty of nature and food. The business would harvest, package and sell local, organic honey and, eventually, offer through a storefront “a new and exciting customer experience, featuring seasonal food and drink pairings designed to highlight and complement our delicious honey.”
Liz Lunderman ’16 and Katharine Boeding ’16: Women in Wilderness, a non-profit organization whose tagline, “Strengthen the Sisterhood | Save the Wilderness,” speaks to the mission to “expose the magic of wilderness and the internal power it creates for all women through film and experience.” Lunderman and Boeding hope to produce a film as part of an awareness campaign that would “expose athletic role models in extreme sports to give girls inspiration to journey into the wilderness.” They also hope create a foundation to offer young women scholarships to experience the wilderness.
Jericsson Pichardo ’15: The Rochester River School and Rochester River School Foundation would offer “a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum that teaches on-water job skills, environmental stewardship, and action (“doing”) by utilizing Rochester’s natural features, especially its waterways.” The “classroom” would extend to the Genesee River and Lake Ontario, as well as the City of Rochester, the Erie Canal, and the nearby Finger Lakes, and would prioritize community engagement, service learning activities, sustainable community development, and community art projects, among other innovative learning opportunities.
As a precursor to the competition several finalists, including Pierce, participated in the HWS IdeaLab, a six-week incubator program to help accelerate student ideas. Student workshopped their ideas with peers and also had access to the Colleges’ vast network of alums to seek out professional expertise in refining ideas. Students were incentivized to enter the contest by the prize of $1,000 to any IdeaLab student who made the second round of The Pitch.
The HWS Innovation Academy, now in its second year, is another offering from CCL, which engages students in five days of intensive training in topics such as innovation, accounting, marketing, negotiations and funding strategies with faculty from the entrepreneurial programs at the University of Rochester, Syracuse University and Cornell University.
As the 2015 winner, Pierce will appear in an interview next month with Bart Jackson ’70, who hosts the weekly podcast, “The Art of the CEO.”