Nine finalists to compete in ESI’s $100,000 Business Pitch Competition


Christina Browning

Stephanie Goldenberg, interim chair of the Entrepreneurial Studies Institute, said the college’s closing affected how the event was handled.

Adrianna Gonzalez, Daily Editor

Nine finalists will compete for cash prizes in AACC’s annual $100,000 Business Pitch Competition, the Entrepreneurial Studies Institute announced Tuesday.

The nine finalists will take part in a live “Shark Tank”- style pitch in front of a panel of six judges on April 30 at 2:30 p.m. on Zoom.

Stephanie Goldenberg, ESI’s interim academic chair, said the competition is open to any student who has a business or is starting a business.

Each finalist submitted a 10-page business plan, a resume and a three-year financial projection, Goldenberg said.

Nineteen competitors went through workshops covering business plan coaching, resume advising and financial planning to prepare for the first cut, according to Goldenberg.

“Luckily, our workshops all happened before spring break,” Goldenberg said. “We had a workshop on creating your resume for the competition, a kickoff event that talked about the competition and all the rules and what you can do.”

Goldenberg said the closing of the college affected how ESI handled business and pitch coaching.

“We [traditionally] had business plan coaching, and students would sign up and they would meet in person with a coach,” Goldenberg said. “That did not happen this year [because of social-distancing requirements], so what we were able to do is pair students with virtual business plan coaches.”

Students met with their coaches on video platforms like Zoom and Skype.

To be eligible students to compete in the competition, a student must be enrolled at AACC in a credit or non-credit class.

“We see students who have [a business] idea and they’ve been working on that idea and they’re planning to launch,” Goldenberg said. “We have students who have some paying customers and they’re looking to maybe get some equipment or get some advice and enhance their marketing so that they can reach additional customers with their business.”

Second-year accounting and mathematics student Zachary Waller is one of the finalists.

Waller’s business, Bookkeepers by the Bay, is a virtual bookkeeping firm.

Waller said he feels “great, excited and nervous” about making it to the next phase of the contest.

It isn’t his first time in the competition.

“I applied last year for the competition but was too early in the startup phase to show the superior concept compared to a traditional firm,” Waller said.

Waller said he has enjoyed working alongside other student entrepreneurs at the Riverhawk Hatchery, a room in Careers with computers and other equipment to help start-ups create logos and marketing materials and spend time with like-minded friends.

“I have felt at home since the first day I walked into the Riverhawk Hatchery,” Waller said.

Another finalist, Baked and Brunched owner Nakia Cheeks, said she started her business in 2017.

“I founded Baked and Brunched after struggling to find healthy and fresh baked goods when visiting my family in Prince George’s County,” Cheeks, a third-year baking and pastries student, said. “At the time, there were not many options for healthy and/or organic baked goods.”

Cheeks, a first-time competitor, said she submitted her application with a few minutes to spare.

“Considering I was delirious [after pulling an all-nighter] when I submitted my application, I honestly did not know if my submission was coherent or was even written in English,” Cheeks said. “Suffice to say, I was shocked to receive notification that I was a finalist.”

Cheeks said she didn’t think she would make it this far.

“I am absolutely grateful for the feedback and experience that I have gotten throughout this process regardless of what happens this week,” Cheeks said.

Second-year interior design student Heidi Pena is another finalist.

Pena’s business, Casa Pena Design, offers interior design services.

Pena said the competition is challenging, but she felt supported along the way.

“This experience that is offered by Entrepreneurial Studies Institute and the Ratcliffe Foundation truly guides you every step of the way, encouraging you, introducing you to professionals who can help you, and championing you and your business,” Pena said. “Navigating the uncertainty is much easier when you have experts in your boat, helping you reach your destination.”

Pena won the Ratcliffe Scholarship in May 2019.

The Ratcliffe Scholarship pays for a student entrepreneur’s tuition and for supplies for the startup business.

Those interested in watching the final round of the competition live on April 30 can request an invitation to the stream on the AACC Entrepreneurial Studies Institute Facebook page.