ESI awards $50,000 during Business Pitch Competition


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Student entrepreneurs received a combined $50,000 during ESI’s Business Pitch Competition.

Christian Richey, Editor-in-Chief

The Entrepreneurial Studies Institute awarded $50,000 to nine students during its Business Pitch Competition Thursday on Zoom.

Student entrepreneurs showcased their proposed and newly formed companies to six judges in a “Shark Tank”-style pitch, each requesting funding to further their businesses.

First-year noncredit student Jenna Bruxvoort won $15,000 for her business Loblola, which sells handmade pinecone dog toys.

“I was up at the lake with my dog, Lola, and she was chewing on pinecones,” Bruxvoort said. “I grabbed my phone and I … looked up pink cone toys for dogs, and I couldn’t find anything, so I just decided to make it.”

Bruxvoort said she will use her winnings to buy production molds for her product.

ESI interim Academic Chair Stephanie Goldenberg said she was happy with the event, despite some technical hiccups with the annual event, which was online for the first time.

“Let’s just say it was stressful yesterday,” Goldenberg said on Friday. “One of our finalists lost power. She was able to get it back, but we created a backup plan for her, so she could pitch. One of our other finalists had a horse that was sick, and she had to drive to Virginia and so she pitched in her car.”

In addition, Goldenberg said, “One of our key co-hosts, [professor Steve Berry], lost internet power that morning, and was told it wouldn’t come on until 3 [p.m.],” Goldenberg said. “So, we got special permission for him to access campus. … So those kinds of things, you can’t really anticipate those, but we figured it out. …  I didn’t care what happened; we were going to hold that event.”

Sixth-year transfer studies student Jessica Flaherty won $8,000 for her business, Clover Run Riding, after presenting her pitch in her car.

“Pretty much anything that has to do with horses, we offer that in some facet,” Flaherty said. “The main thing I do is competitive training and lessons.”

Flaherty said she will spend her winnings on marketing and legally incorporating the business.

“The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to get a big sign for the side of the road our farm is [on],” Flaherty said. “It’s on the side of Route 2 … but you can’t actually see the farm from the road.”

First-year interior design student Heidi Pena won $6,000 for her company, Casa Pena Designs, and plans to spend the winnings on marketing and a WELL design certification.

“Casa Pena designs offers design support to clients looking for interior design services as well as event planning services,” Pena said.

Goldenberg said she enjoyed students’ presentations, and felt they gained valuable knowledge as they prepared for the event.

“I thought that they learned a lot about business during this process,” Goldenberg said.

Prior to the competition students took part in workshops preparing them to present their businesses.

Pena said the event was a success, and she appreciated ESI’s efforts to hold it.

“I was impressed that they were able to pull everything together, and without a hitch,” Pena said. “It really seemed to go really well.”

Bruxvoort said winning the money helped her feel validated in her business.

“To have a little bit of breathing room and funding to really pursue what you want to do is incredible,” Bruxvoort said.

Goldenberg said she felt proud of the work she and her staff did on the event.

“I’m really happy,” Goldenberg said. “Was it perfect? No. But I feel like I’m proud of the work that we put into it to prepare, to test and to just give our students the best experience that they could have.”

Goldenberg also announced 15 winners of the Ratcliffe Scholarship, which awards $12,000 each to student entrepreneurs through the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation.

Goldenberg said students interested in joining ESI can attend a virtual open house May 11 through Zoom with the password 024575.