In the mercurial world of startups, reliable guidance is a valuable resource. As part of the Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest, each semi-finalist is paired with an HWS alum or parent who has experience in entrepreneurship. These mentors provide assistance in finance, product design and customer experience to students as they craft proposals for innovative ideas that are ready to be implemented in the real world. Going into the spring’s final Pitch event, the four 2016 finalists worked closely with their mentors to anticipate complications and devise solutions.
“At its core, entrepreneurship is about critical thinking and problem solving,” says Bill Glaab ’06, co-founder of Hand in Hand and the alum mentor for Elizabeth Weingast ‘18. “For young, budding entrepreneurs, a safe incubator-type environment like the Pitch can make all the difference in the world.”
Weingast developed “Band Together,” a customizable headband business that allows athletes who purchase the gear to donate 10 percent of the profit to a charity of their choice. Through Glaab’s mentorship, Weingast says she pushed herself to think about “Band Together” in a long-term setting.
“He really opened my eyes to how every business is constantly changing,” says Weingast, “Knowing this, along with the financial tools Bill gave me, has prepared me not only for The Pitch, but for life after HWS.”
Jeffrey Rizza ’16, whose aquaponics farm proposal won this year’s competition, “changed drastically” after receiving mentorship from Founder of Colorado Aquaponics J.D. Sawyer ’92. He explains that Sawyer revealed “countless aspects” of starting an aquaponics facility that he would have otherwise overlooked, helping him avoid potential costly mistakes.
“Because he runs an aquaponics farm of his own, J.D. Sawyer was able to give me feedback and suggestions that were grounded in experience,” Rizza says. “His willingness to share his experience accelerated the development of my business model dramatically.”
Rizza also had the opportunity to attend one of Sawyer’s four-day aquaponics workshops, which he says provided him with a “much more comprehensive understanding” of how to approach the business structure of aquaponics farming.
Matthew Benton ’18 was paired with Jeff Werner ’91, general manager of international and public policy at Daimler Automotive, to work on his proposal for “Efficienauto,” an automobile regulatory device that works to improve driving, generate consumer savings and increase automotive efficiency.
“His app, which would create a community of drivers competing to be the most efficient, struck me as a genuinely good idea,” says Werner. “I think he fine-tuned his thinking during the process and improved the pitch overall.”
Benton says that Werner’s experience in the industry helped make his idea “more feasible, from a political standpoint and from a social acceptance standpoint.”
After working with Joe DeSimone Jr. ’89, broker and owner of First Federal Realty DeSimone, Almamy Conde ’18 says DeSimone helped improve his business model by making it more realistic and appealing to consumers.
“His mentorship was extremely beneficial and I still communicate with him,” Conde says. “The conversations we had were amazing and meant so much to me because I learned more about the business from someone who just bought a casino in Las Vegas.”
Conde, who is a licensed realtor, developed “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 as deposit online.
“The entire Pitch process was amazing,” says Conde.
In the photos above, from top to bottom, Almamy Conde ’18, Elizabeth Weingast ’18, Jeffrey Rizza ’16 and Matthew Benton ’18 present their ideas during the 2016 Stu Lieblein ’90 Pitch Contest.