Five winners, including undergraduate students and recent alumni, emerged from the “Rise to the Challenge” Business Pitch Competition on April 21, each receiving their own version of “the big check” and a portion of the nearly $30,000 in prize money. The event, conducted in-person for the first time in three years, 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.
Clarrissa Cozart, a Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow, and founder of Tailored Fit, a fashion line for tall boys that will allow customers to shop waist to inseam, was chosen as the evening’s “Most Promising Business” — walking away with the $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. Cozart also earned the $500 “Hustle Award,” provided 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.
The top earner in the category of “Existing Business Ventures,” a $5,000 prize was recent grad Samantha Mellerson (BS ’21), also a former Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow and creator of founder of HeART Sam, a maker of premium-quality knitted fabrics that combine Afrocentric depictions and wearable art.
Other winners included Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow Jonah Willard, who earned the top award in the category of “Aspiring Business Ventures,” netting $2,000 for his business idea, Grease Garage, a planned shared-economy car garage, where car enthusiasts can meet to work on their vehicles, at their leisure. Willard also was a double-winner, taking home the Crowd Favorite award of $1,000.
Another Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow emerged as winner of the $5,000 Dean’s Challenge Award:Na’Quon Willet, founder of Investment Neighbor, a subscription service that provides financial, market, and economic data to help retail investors make independent decisions. Established last 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).
The Baltimore Fund Award, a $1,000 prize 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, went to Audriana Duvall, the creatorof Single Baes, which offers custom shirts that showcase a person’s interests so they can meet someone in real life, not online, and donates a portion of proceeds to efforts to clean up the Baltimore Harbor.
Other finalists in the competition, which celebrated its tenth year, included:
- Alumni team ofIke Opaigbeogu(BS ’16) andformer Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow, Emily Kim (BS ’15), who presentedZety Taste, which is planning to offer frozen, ready-to-eat, nutritious meals for young adults in their mid-20s and 30s.
- Ashley Norman, creator ofPlasticology LLC, a retailer for national artisansthatoffers zero waste, eco-friendly and environmentally safe toiletries.
For the first time since spring 2019,the finalist cohort, pitching in two separate categories, Aspiring Business and Existing Business, all competed in person in front of a live audience and a panel of expert judges, who represented the local business and entrepreneurship community:
- Ethan Kazi, Founder and CEO, The Canton Group
- Tammira Lucas, Founder, The Cube Cowork
- Jay Nwachu (MS ’08), President and CEO, Innovation Works
- Brian Saval (BS ‘09), Vice President, Saval Foodservice
“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’sCenter 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 international 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 & Innovation, is designed to generate awareness of emerging and established innovative business ventures nurtured by the UBalt community. Learn more about the “Rise to the Challenge” Business competition here. 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. Meet with one of our counselors to discuss launching or growing your business. Visit us at www.ubalt.edu/cei for more information.