Since 2012, the annual Pitch contest has paired student entrepreneurs with members of the Colleges’ network of alums, families and friends, resulting in mentorships that push ideas to their fullest potential.
As participating students develop their influential ideas from proposal to implementation, competing for up to $10,000, “Pitch mentors provide an industry sounding board that student entrepreneurs really need,” says Amy Forbes, director of the Colleges’ Centennial Center, which organizes the Colleges’ signature entrepreneurial leadership contest.
“Hearing an industry expert in tech describe my own company and the product we are developing, and fully understand what we aim to accomplish was both meaningful and powerful,” says Maxim Zibitsker ’19, one of the 2019 Pitch finalists who also competed in 2017.
With the help of Daniel L. Rosensweig ’83, president and CEO of Chegg and former HWS Trustee, Zibitsker refined his proposal for Aqua Salutem, which uses artificial intelligence and a computer-based echolocation system to help minimize rescue response times for drowning victims and identify drowning before it occurs. Inspired by his time working as a lifeguard, the project relies on the technical background Zibitsker has developed through his computer science coursework. “Writing a business plan about selling customers both software and hardware is very tricky,” he says, but with Rosensweig’s guidance, “I was able to map out a clear path to tackle various objectives.”
Finalist Alexandria Knipper ’21, whose UVA service uses a unique identification questionnaire to strategically connect cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in an online cancer support community, has been working with Matthew K. Enstice ’95, president and CEO of Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“The ideas that students come up with are game-changing,” says Enstice. “They have their fingers on the pulse of what society is looking for, what the next generation is looking for. For HWS to take a position to support and encourage that is a great thing. Lex had an idea that came from personal experience and a passion she had for supporting cancer patients. Hopefully our role as mentors is to help channel those ideas and passions and put business structures around it. We give them things to think about and give direction, and then they take it and run with it.”
“Often students present ideas that are very much just a theory. If they make the second round and get matched with a mentor, the real world advice they get allows them to flesh out their concept and push their idea toward implementation,” says Forbes. “The best mentors provide a lot of encouragement but also tough love. I’ve seen students have their concepts dismantled by their mentor and then built back up with practical realism. This is largely why Pitch ideas grow so substantially over the course of the competition.”
Other 2019 Pitch finalists have been working with their alum mentors to put the finishing touches on their proposals before Thursday, March 7, when they present their ideas to a panel of expert judges from the HWS community: Eric Cohler ’81, designer and principal at Eric Cohler Designs; Caroline Ross Galdabini ’89, head of marketing at Citi Private Bank; HWS Trustee Michael Rawlins ’80, principal user experience design architect at the Walt Disney Company; and Philip Yawman ’87, president at the Cooley Group, Inc.
Samuel Andra ’20 has been honing his proposal for Sense — an advanced tremolo/vibrado system that aids in the prevention of guitar tuning issues — with Robert “Bob” Schmitt ’68, CEO of Visual Face Recognition.
Under the guidance of Kai-Zhi Yuan ’93, networking manager at HP, Garrett Brzozowiec ’19 and Michael Harris ’19 collaborated on TouchTab, an integrated software application that enables customers at drinking establishments to display, track and close their tabs entirely from their smartphone.
During the semifinals stage this winter, Hayden Dieterle ’22 worked with John Ficks ’93, vice president of marketing at Robbins Sports Services, to develop TradeTribe, an online marketplace to effectively and efficiently connect contactors with skilled laborers. As Alexander Cohen ’20 built PowerSet, a powerful and versatile tool for quickly and easily analyzing large amounts of stock market data, he was mentored by Peter Alternative ’90, a partner at Mirus Capital Partners. Under the guidance of Amanda Schenk Grisa ’12 and Jeremiah Grisa ’13, owners of Schenk Homestead Farm, Jack Polentes ’21 designed The Orchard Project, which would plant community orchards to promote sustainability in Geneva’s food access, ecology, education and community. As she created Project Impact, a tool to help consumers better understand the social and environmental impacts of their financial decisions, Helen Wagner Maggitti ’19 was counseled by Andreanna Doering ’84, managing director at TIAA. Brian Helms ’19 developed Campus Algae Biodiesel, a biodiesel program where algae replaces fryer oil as the fuel source, under the guidance of Ira Goldschmidt ’77, owner of Goldschmidt Engineering Solutions.