This year six winners, including undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni, emerged from the “Rise to the Challenge” Business Pitch Competition that was held on April 22. They each received their own virtual version of “the big check” and a portion of the nearly $30,000 in prize money. The event, conducted entirely online for the second year in a row, is supported annually by the University of Baltimore's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to showcase many of the UBalt community's most talented and driven entrepreneurs. Watch the event "Highlights Reel."
Nicole Mighty, a Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow, and founder of Spiked Orchids, which produces and sells high-quality, environmentally friendly apparel and home goods by leveraging sustainable manufacturing practices and repurposing second-hand materials, was chosen as the evening's “Most Promising Business” — walking away with a $15,000 “check.” The award, established in 2018 through the Jay Ripley Entrepreneurship Fund, is given to the student whose business, in either category, has the best prospects for growth, as determined by the judges.
Mighty also earned another first, becoming one of two competitors ever to tie for the top vote in the category of “Existing Business Ventures,” a $5,000 prize. The other top earner in that category was Rebecca Thompson, a first-year Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and creator of Crate Craft & Co., which turns easy-to-follow DIY projects into fun, online events, by shipping customers all the necessary materials and hosting “live” group instruction parties. Thompson also earned the $500 “Hustle Award,” presented by Jason Tagler, founder of Pitch Creator. The cash prize — normally rolls of $20 in a mason jar but this year delivered via PayPal — goes to the finalist who shows the most improvement during the multi-week presentation coaching program.
Other winners include:
- Robert Myers, an inventor who earned the top award in the category of "Aspiring Business Ventures,” netting $2,000 for his business idea, Switchboard Pedal Management System, a new organizational tool that revolutionizes and simplifies how pedalboards are built for use by guitar players and other musicians in live and studio settings.
- Derek Lau, CEO of Stemtric, an online hub that hosts high-quality, gamified, incentivized, and community-engaging mathematics learning resources on social media platforms, also was a double-winner, taking home the Crowd Favorite award of $1,000, along with the Baltimore Fund Award, a $1,000 award given to the entrepreneur who best exemplifies the University’s commitment to Community and Civic Engagement, Ethical Engagement, and Responsible and Resourceful Stewardship for the City of Baltimore.
And two alumni emerged as winners to split the $5,000 Dean’s Challenge Award: Kellie Brown (BA ’18), Founder/CEO, SpreadKarma, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs and others seeking fundraising education, access to funding and exposure for projects that create a positive impact in underserved communities; and Shelby Blondell (BS ’15/MBA ’18), inventor and founder of the Shell Pick, a unique way to play guitar that breaks barriers and solves problems between the musician who enjoys playing with a pick and those who play without one. Newly established this year by Murray Dalziel, Dean of the Merrick School of Business, the Dean’s Challenge Award is given to the competitor or competitors who best demonstrate the social impact of their venture(s).
As an added highlight this year, three alumni – former Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows, Matthew Jung (BS '18), co-founder of Dead Veggies; Emily Kim (BS '15), founder and CEO of Over Rice, Zety Taste, and Uma Uma; and Meejee Kim (BS '17), CEO of MISKOFITS and MV Studios – provided the “half-time” show while the judges met to deliberate and choose the winners. All three engaged in a Q&A session with Dean Dalziel, about their journeys from undergrads to successful business owners, and helped make the entire night a memorable celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. Check out the conversation on YouTube.
Other finalists in the competition, now in its ninth year, included: Nikia Madison, a Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and CEO of SafePl8/Allergy-Free Grocery, which helps people living with food allergies purchase allergy-friendly products and serves as a resource to the community to help with understanding and managing food allergies, and Elizabeth Ogun, Founder, Scribe, an online platform with a mission to make professional writing accessible to everyone at various mastery levels. Through the use of artificial intelligence, customizable templates, and an intelligent editor.
For the second straight year, the finalist cohort, consisting of undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni, pitching in two separate categories, Aspiring Business and Existing Business, all competed from remote locations, due to restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel of expert judges, who also participated remotely, represented the local business and entrepreneurship community:
- Lily Bengfort, Chief Growth Officer at TCecure, LLC
- Troy A. LeMaile-Stovall, CEO/Executive Director, TEDCO
- Laura Neuman, Partner, NextGen Venture Partners; and
- Carolyn Yarina, CEO and Co-Founder, Sisu Global
“Although not everyone walked away with a monetary prize, I believe that all of the finalists proved to be winners this year,” said Henry Mortimer, Director of UBalt’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Honestly, the work that they put into this competition, amid the continued uncertainty of a global pandemic, a volatile economy, and national and local unrest — not to mention managing their “real” personal, academic and professional lives in a virtual world — is nothing short of extraordinary. They’re all impressive, and it is my hope that I’m not the only one who feels that way. My wish is that each caught the attention of someone new who’d be interested in their idea or product, possibly some very influential people who can help nurture the growth of their enterprise and allow them to continue to develop as entrepreneurs.”
If you were unable to view the completion, you can watch the archive of the livestream on the Merrick School’s Facebook page. The “Rise to the Challenge” competition, sponsored by UBalt’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, is designed to generate awareness of emerging and established innovative business ventures nurtured by the UBalt community.
The University of Baltimore Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation directs support and assistance to UBalt students and alumni interested in building or growing an enterprise. We do this through support, culture, events, education and research, and connecting with the business community. Visit us at www.ubalt.edu/cei for more information