After hearing four of the most impressive proposals in the history of the annual Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest, a panel of alum judges named Jeffrey Rizza ’16 the 2016 winner of HWS’ entrepreneurial competition.
As the winner, Rizza will receive a $10,000 grant to use as start-up funds toward his proposed business, “Future Farms.” The grant is funded by Stu Lieblien ’90, who has supported the first-place grant since 2013 and will do so over the next three years.
Rizza’s winning idea is an energy-efficient greenhouse that combines vertical growing techniques with innovative technology called aquaponics to grow local produce year-round. Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is raising fish, and hydroponics, which is growing plants without any soil.
“It works like a miniature ecosystem,” explained the physics and environmental studies double major. Rizza says the technology uses 90 percent less water than conventional soil agriculture and can grow more, higher-quality, affordable produce in a much smaller area than conventional soil methods. Rizza plans to establish his first “Future Farm” in the Hudson Valley region of New York near his hometown.
“We were very impressed with the maturity of the idea and how it can be executed,” said Sabrina Horn ’83, managing partner and technology practice leader at Finn Partners, who served as one of four judges. Other judges included: Dan Chessin ’84, co-president and CEO of Hahn Automotive Warehouse; Chris Desino ’94, founder and owner of Wellington Equestrian Realty and Ocala Horse Properties; and Amy Ziff ’92, CEO and founder of Nontoxic Certified.
The judges commended all finalists for their poise, confidence and the quality of their presentations, as well as the Colleges for providing students with the transformative opportunity and support to pursue entrepreneurial ideas.
“I can tell you – and I really mean this from the bottom of my heart – the quality of the presentations I’ve heard here tonight blows away the quality of the presentations I’ve heard at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester,” said Chessin.
“Our hearts beat so full for Hobart and William Smith, and it’s been such a great time to be here with all of you,” said Horn, thanking the finalists for providing the judges with an unforgettable experience.
The other finalists of the competition were
- Matthew Benton ’18, a recipient of a James F. ’56 and Cynthia L. Caird Endowed Scholarship, who presented “EfficienAuto,” an automobile statistics tool, universal app, website and service described as a “Fitbit for your car” that generates driving efficiency statistics;
- Almamy Conde ’18, the recipient of a Jewett Family Scholarship, who proposed “SmartHunter,” a real estate website and app for renters and agents; and
- Elizabeth Weingast ’18, who pitched “Band Together,” a customizable headband business that allows athletes to choose someone to play for.
Each of the finalists was awarded $750 from the Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL), which facilitates the competition, to support continued development toward the students’ entrepreneurial leadership and ideas. “Our hope is that the contest has only enhanced your desire to pursue your ideas further,” said Susan Pliner, associate dean for teaching, learning, and assessment and director of CCL.
Now in its fifth year, all five of the past winners are currently pursuing their winning ideas. Three of them were in attendance, including last year’s winner Paige Pierce ’17, who gave an update of her business, “Orchard Outfitters,” during the intermission. Also on stage to answer questions were the 2014 winner Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17 and 2013 winner Andrew King ’14.
“Tonight is a night that represents the very best of Hobart and William Smith,” said President Mark D. Gearan, concluding the evening. “These are great students who have been well-prepared in the classroom and well-prepared in the Centennial Center, bringing together our faculty, staff and alumni and alumnae, and a phenomenal group of students here tonight to support their classmates.”
A video of the full event is available here.