This spring, Maxim Zibitsker ’19 won $10,000 in the final round of the Pitch Contest to launch Aqua Salutem Technologies, 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.
Zibitsker joins a select group of HWS students who since 2012 have developed influential ideas from proposal to implementation, delivered their ideas to a group of panelists and an audience of HWS community members, and emerged as winners of the annual Pitch Contest.
For these entrepreneurs, the ideas they generated through the competition have evolved into enterprises with reach from Geneva around the world and led them to careers at top global companies. Here’s what they are doing now.
Sara Wroblewski ’13: 2012 Pitch Winner
Since winning The Pitch in 2012, Wroblewski’s One Bead organization has evolved from funding schools abroad to supporting youth leadership closer to home. Her original idea was to sell bracelets with glass beads from Kenya, with the hope of raising $6,000 to help fund a project at the Oloosirkon Government Primary School in Nairobi, Kenya. Within one year of winning the Pitch, Wroblewski was able to successfully complete the project.
After graduating, Wroblewski partnered with Caroline Dosky Allen ’12, MAT ’13 to develop a leadership program designed to cultivate leaders at the elementary and middle school levels. “We give kids a chance to have control, to have purpose, to make a difference. When they have that sense of agency they are more open to learning skillsets that can benefit them in the future,” says Wroblewski.
To date, One Bead has raised more than $500,000 in donations, which has supported leadership projects by hundreds of students in the Greater Boston area. The organization has hired three full time employees, including Kate Moreau ’18, and is on track to run eight programs by the fall of 2019.
Andrew King ’14 and Zachary Lerman ’13: 2013 Pitch Winners
With SpaceVinyl, King and Lerman found a unique market for print services in the Finger Lakes. What began as a computer keyboard accessory company grew into a broader operation as it moved into a storefront location in downtown Geneva, providing comprehensive design and production services for the region.
“Launching SpaceVinyl in Geneva was the best decision I made after college. With the region’s growth, we were able to fill a niche and therefore expand and diversify our services,” says King.
After operating in Geneva for several years, King sold the company to Community Proud Apparel in 2018 and began collaborating with 2013 Pitch finalist Matthew Mead ’13 in pioneering the use of hempcrete (a hemp-based concrete alternative) for insulation in the state of New York.
Ato Bentsi-Enchill ’17: 2014 Pitch Winner
After graduation, Bentsi-Enchill returned to his home country of Ghana to continue working on Revision Prep, the business that won him the Pitch in 2014. Following a few iterations of Revision Prep, Bentsi-Enchill pivoted to found Black Adam Africa, which secures growth capital investments for businesses in Ghana. By leveraging his connections to local businesses, Bentsi-Enchill has been able to help small businesses grow.
High speed internet is difficult to find in Ghana, and while working on Black Adam Africa, Bentsi-Enchill often found himself using connections at coffee shops. After realizing how much money he was spending on coffee and food, and seeing others in the same position, he decided to open a co-working space in Ghana’s capital, Accra. The co-working space, 8 Volta work spaces, now houses companies, many of whom are his clients, as well as freelancers, mainly in the tech and advertising industries.
Paige Pierce ’17: 2015 Pitch Winner
After a year on the company’s lead generation sales team, she has taken on a more focused role on the equities sales team, selling alternative research data to hedge funds and asset managers.
Pierce, whose mobile fashion storefront company Orchard Outfitters won the 2015 Pitch, says that the two most important skills she learned from the process were the importance of listening and the value of being adaptable. “It can be difficult to get clients to trust you and open up enough to share their problems or ambitions,” Pierce explains, by asking questions and listening closely she says she has able to build that trust. “No matter what industry you are in you want to be able to adapt to a changing environment. I felt that I had learned how to adapt and be flexible through the trials and tribulations I encountered while starting up my business through The Pitch competition.”
Jeff Rizza ’16: 2016 Pitch Winner
Facing scalability challenges with Future Farms, the 2016 Pitch-winning idea that harnessed innovative technology and vertical growing techniques, Rizza harnessed his interests in engineering and conservation to found Skysite.
Recognizing a need for drone services in the upstate New York area, Rizza earned his commercial drone license from the FAA, purchased equipment and began working with organizations like the Adirondack Park Agency to help monitor invasive species by mapping lakes.
Now in Montana with DJ & A, an engineering, surveying and planning firm, Rizza manages the company’s drone services and operations, but picking up on “a need for an American-made commercial drone,” he sees entrepreneurial opportunities in the drone hardware business.
Sam Solomon ’17: 2017 Pitch Winner
Pizza Posto, Solomon’s mobile wood-fired pizza restaurant, offers locally sourced ingredients to provide customers with a unique culinary experience that is representative of the abundant agriculture and booming wine industry in the Finger Lakes region.
From June to early November, Solomon’s food truck tours the region, with pop-up services from downtown Geneva to Penn Yan to the HWS campus for Orientation and Homecoming and Family Weekend.
“I learned a lot,” Solomon says of his first season operating the business. “And I plan to take what I learned and use that to make improvements for next season.”
During the offseason, Solomon has been growing the social media management business he started with Harrison Demaira ’19. “Harrison did a fantastic job managing Pizza Posto’s social media accounts in our first few months of business. We decided to start the business after seeing the social media pages of local businesses, which we knew we could improve,” says Solomon.
Andrew Silard ’18: 2018 Pitch Winner
Silard secured a $10,000 grant to fund his start-up Revolve, a social media crowdfunding platform for non-profit organizations. The Pitch grant covered a portion of the start-up costs for Silard’s app, which underwent beta testing throughout the Finger Lakes area.
Silard first began working on Revolve when he attended the Clinton Global Initiative in 2017. Working with mentor Nan Doyal P’18, president of the International Forum, Silard says the Centennial Center “helped me refine my proposal and provided me with revisions, feedback and suggestions to develop my idea into a fundable project.”
After graduating cum laude in economics and environmental studies, Silard continues crunching numbers and analyzing data in his role as multi-asset trader at LD Capital Markets, a hedge-fund based in Greenwich, Conn.