The 2020 finalists for the Pitch, the Colleges’ entrepreneurial leadership contest, have created products and services that will make strides to empower women, help communities feel more safe and improve students’ career preparedness. For the first time in the eight-year history of the competition, all of the finalists are William Smith students.
Having refined their ideas with help from industry professionals in the HWS Alum Network who serve as “Pitch mentors,” the six entrepreneurs – seated on four teams – will present their innovative business ideas to a panel of experts on Thursday, March 5 in the Vandervort Room of the Scandling Campus Center. The winning pitch will take home a $10,000 prize.
The Pitch competition is a Centennial Center program.
This year’s finalists include:
Kathleen Liech ’22, Girls Pride Foundation
In high school, Liech traveled to Samburu, Kenya to conduct in-person interviews about female genital mutilation (FGM). The experience made a significant impact on Liech, and catalyzed her decision to found the Girls Pride Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Northern Kenya that raises awareness to eradicate FGM by supporting women who have suffered the effects of this practice and promoting empowerment through education. Already, the foundation hosts two seminars a year in which they supply sanitary pads and host group peer sessions. Liech intends to expand the foundation by creating a market space for women of the Samburu community to sell their beadwork, fostering entrepreneurship and providing a sustainable revenue source that will be used to create a community center.
“We aim to give these girls a chance to be free from FGM, an opportunity go to school and to give the older women an opportunity to make income and be self-reliant,” Liech says. Her Pitch mentor is Founder and CEO of One Bead Sara Wroblowski ’13, who won the Pitch competition in 2012.
Hannah Bini ’20, Chloe Emler ’20 and Addison Gilbard ’20, Exit 42 Media
During the 2019 Summer Sandbox, the Centennial Center’s accelerator program, Bini, Emler and Gilbard developed Exit 42 Media – a multimedia company focused on creating TV show scripts with a proof of concept. Initially, Exit 42 Media creates multimedia content, such as a comic book, podcast, video series, book or virtual reality story. When the project picks up an established following and proof of sales, the multimedia company then develops a script.
“Technology is changing how stories can be consumed, which is why we are utilizing it to create media for the modern era,” Bini, Emler and Gilbard write in their project proposal. Netflix has already begun to apply this model. In 2019, the streaming platform released the original series “Dirty John,” an adaptation of the podcast of the same name released by the L.A. Times that more than 10 million people had downloaded. Bini, Emler and Gilbard met their Pitch Mentor, director of original documentary programming at Netflix Zana Lawrence, in Los Angeles through the Salisbury Center’s Behind the Scenes program.
As other streaming services enter the market, Bini, Emler and Gilbard will be poised to meet their content demand. Exit 42 Media will also emphasize equitable gender representation, both in their scripts and behind the scenes.
Maya Weber ’20, Syndéseis
During her sophomore year at the Colleges, Weber participated in the NYC Finance Experience facilitated by the Salisbury Center for Career, Professional and Experiential Education. Over the four-day trek, Weber met more than 50 HWS community members who work for major firms in the financial services industry. There, she made a connection that helped her land an internship as a summer analyst at Bank of America. Now, Weber has created Syndéseis, an online portal that assists in the organizational management, tracking and teaching of the networking process through mentor/counselor feedback. The name, Syndéseis, means connections in Greek. Her proposal aims to help individuals strengthen and utilize the connections they already have and those they will create.
“At Syndéseis, our goal is to assist students and young professionals through the process of intentional, purposeful networking, because networking is more than identifying a connection, it is creating a meaningful and long-lasting relationship,” Weber says. Her Pitch mentor is vice president of Samsung Electronics America Ted Brodheim ’82.
Nicole Wright ’20, Emeritus Fire Gear
Wright has been a volunteer member of the Geneva Fire Department since she turned 18. She has responded to numerous calls in the community, including a February 2019 dispatch to help deliver a baby during a severe snowstorm. Her experience has taught her that seconds matter when first responders are answering a distress call. In order to improve response times, Wright has redesigned a piece of firefighters’ gear called the Nomex. Emeritus Fire Gear will design and sell a sweatshirt with a flame-resistant hood that firefighters can wear casually, allowing them to readily apply their equipment before being dispatched to a call. “Since a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, this will make a major difference in response times for first responders and will ultimately save lives,” Wright says. Her Pitch mentor is director of sales at Hudson Sutler Jake Lecky ’10.
Established in 2012, past winners of The Pitch have gone on to launch a test-prep company in Ghana, provide scholarships and leadership training to youth in Boston, Mass., and develop a life-saving buoy prototype for detecting drowning victims.
This year’s judges are Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68, L.H.D. ’18, Chairman and Co-Founder of The Bozzuto Group; Jane M. Erickson ’07, Director of The Rippel Foundation; David A. Kaplan ’83, Co-Founder and CEO of PureSolo Ltd. and Murge LLC; and philanthropist Josephine Grayson P’18.
The final competition on March 5 will be livestreamed.