One step closer to seeing their entrepreneurial dreams become a reality, 11 students representing eight teams were recently selected as semifinalists for the fifth installment of the Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest. Chosen from the largest pool of applicants in the contest’s history, the students will now receive mentorship and guidance on how to refine their proposals through a series of workshops and meetings organized by the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL).
“We have a number of large, long term ideas and several smaller, more action-ready ideas, which is exciting to see,” says Amy Forbes, associate director of CCL. “Its very healthy competition that really challenges students. One success of the contest is that all of our previous winners are still engaged with their ideas, even after graduation. Its great to work with students who are so committed to learning.”
Organized by CCL, the Pitch is an entrepreneurial leadership contest designed to draw out entrepreneurial ingenuity and creativity from students as they compete for the top prize – a $10,000 grant to fund their idea. Forbes explains that this year’s ideas were chosen for their potential and their capacity to work through barriers and flaws.
“We spend an incredible amount of time and resources to support them,” says Susan Pliner, associate dean for teaching, learning, and assessment and director of CCL. “For us, it’s not only the end result but it’s the learning that occurs for them over this period of time. The students are going to take that with them regardless of whether or not it’s with this idea or the next idea or the one after that.”
The 2016 Pitch semifinalists and their proposals are as follows:
Matthew Benton ’18 – “Efficienauto,” an automobile regulatory device with an iPhone app, website and subscription service, which works to improve driving, generate consumer savings and increase automotive efficiency. Benton is the recipient of a James F. ’56 and Cynthia L. Caird Endowed Scholarship.
Almamy Conde ’18 – “SmartHunter,” a free website that analyzes thousands of apartment listings in urban areas, giving consumers the ability to view apartments, submit required documents as well a deposit online.
Christopher Doak ’18 and Rotimi Adeoye ’18 – “YouPolicy,” a social media platform that will allow people to discuss trending topics in U.S. politics and foreign affairs.
Brett Friedberg ’18 – “Undaustria,” a product capable of producing energy from ocean wave power and ocean current flow, distributing the energy back to the national grid.
Jeff Rizza ’16 – “Future Farms,” a food production company that uses aquaponics in localized greenhouses in an effort to provide year-round, naturally grown food.
Elizabeth Weingast ’18 – “Band Together,” a customizable headband business that allows athletes who purchase the gear to donate 15 percent of the profit to a charity of their choice.
Alexander Williams ’16, Eric Brady ’16 and Ryan McManus ’18 – “Ventri,” a funding website that allows entrepreneurs to imagine, create and execute their own business plans.
Laina Zissu ’16 – “The Chaos Control,” a business that connects families with college students for personal assistance with childcare, errands, house sitting, pet sitting, event planning and office help.
The semifinalists will be paired with an alum mentor who will guide them through the process of strengthening and revising their proposals. Students will present their revamped proposals to a selection committee of faculty, staff, alums and local entrepreneurs in January, after which four proposals will be chosen to compete for the top prize in March.
Semifinalists are offered a spot in CCL’s Innovation Academy, which engages students in five days of intensive training in topics such as innovation, accounting, marketing, negotiations and funding strategies with faculty from HWS and surrounding colleges and universities. Open to all students, Innovation Academy will run from Jan. 11 to 15.
Before submitting their ideas to the Pitch, several of the semifinalists participated in CCL’s IdeaLab, a six-week accelerator program to help develop student ideas. Students had the opportunity to expand their ideas by workshopping with presenters and student peers. Any IdeaLab student who makes it to the second round of the Pitch receives a $1,000 prize to help fund his or her idea.
“My proposal would not be the same as it is right now if I didn’t participate in the IdeaLab. It really taught me how to talk about my idea to make the idea grow,” says Weingast. “The entire process is a learning experience. We’re understanding what it takes to make an idea into something real. This is not going to be my last idea, so this experience is going to help me in the future no matter what industry I pursue.”
Entrepreneur Stu Lieblein ’90, whose generous support funds the contest’s first-place $10,000 grant prize, is also an important mentor for students throughout the course of the competition as he helps them decipher and work through feedback to strengthen their ideas. Since the contest’s inception in 2011, Lieblein’s support has allowed the Pitch to grow into one of the most competitive and popular events on campus.
“Stu has been integrally involved in the building and further development of the Pitch Contest, and his wisdom and advice have helped us to grow it in really significant ways,” says Pliner. “He’s committed to student learning and we are so grateful for his participation. He’s challenged us as a leadership center to bring in more and higher quality proposals. He’s both supportive and serves as an impetus to help us change and grow.”