Five winners, including undergraduate students and recent alumni, emerged from The University of Baltimore's 2023 "Rise to the Challenge" Business Pitch Competition held on April 27 in the William H. Thumel Sr., Business Center, home of the Merrick School of Business. Each winner received their own "big check," plus a portion of the nearly $30,000 in prize money. The event, now in its 11th year, is supported annually by the University's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation to showcase many of the UBalt community's most talented and driven entrepreneurs.
For the first time in five years, two entrepreneurs were chosen for the evening's top prize, the "Most Promising Business" award:
- Angel Wilson, MFA '19, an entrant in the "Existing Business Ventures" category and founder of Silent Books Publishing, a minority-owned self-publishing services business for aspiring and seasoned authors;
- Tyeisha Pinnock, M.B.A '19, creator of the Aspiring Business entry Dip'T, a line of vegetarian food for people who love to try new snacks, and who love to support locally made products.
The two participants will share the $15,000 award, established in 2018 through the Jay Ripley Entrepreneurship Fund and given to the student whose business, in either category, has the best prospects for growth, as determined by the judges.
Wilson's top vote from the judges earned her a $5,000 prize, while Pinnock's first-place finish netted her $2,000.
The winner of the $5,000 Dean's Challenge Award was Joanne Jones, a senior Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and creator of Kenyan Kutie, which imports and sells authentic, vibrant jewelry made by entrepreneurs in Kenya and donates 10 percent of net sales to a non-profit in Kenya. Established by Merrick School of Business Dean Murray Dalziel, the Dean's Challenge Award is given to the competitor or competitors who best demonstrate the social impact of their venture(s). Jones also took home the Crowd Favorite award of $1,000.
Serena Brontide, a junior majoring in English and creative writing and founder of Synapse Collective, makers of "Rooms," an interactive online learning platform that uses 3D technology to create an immersive experience, won the Baltimore Fund Award. This $1,000 prize is awarded 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.
Jonah Willard, a senior Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and founder of Grease Garage, a DIY auto shop for car enthusiasts that also offers skills training to underserved people in the area, earned the $500 "Hustle Award." Provided by Jason Tagler, founder of Pitch Creator, the cash prize—normally rolls of $20s 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.
As an added highlight this year, Clarrissa Cozart, the 2022 winner of the "Most Promising Business" prize and the $500 "Hustle Award," delivered the event's keynote address. Cozart, a senior Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and founder of Tailored Fit, a fashion line for tall boys, discussed how her experience as an entrepreneurship student at UBalt has fueled and shaped her success—and helped make the entire night a memorable celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit.
The other finalist in the competition included Mario Izquierdo, founder of Limitir, a 3D-printed auto parts marketplace where customers can download car parts, saving time and money.
The panel of expert judges, representing the local business and entrepreneurship community, included:
- Ted Goloboski, B.S. '75, president of Belfast Valley Contractors, Inc.
- Michael "MJ" Jackson, B.S. '00, M.B.A. '02, vice president and global head of industries at DocuSign
- Aneta Orellana, owner and manager of CMS, LLC
- Jay Ripley, B.S. '79, board chairman of Alaris Equity Partners
"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 (CEI). "Honestly, the work that they put into this competition, amid the continued uncertainty of the economy, as well as national and local unrest—not to mention managing their "real" personal, academic and professional lives—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."
The "Rise to the Challenge" competition, sponsored by CEI, 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. The center does this through support, culture, events, education and research, and connecting with the business community. Meet with one of our counselors to discuss launching or growing your business.
Learn more about CEI.