Winners Announced for UBalt’s ‘Rise to the Challenge’ Business Pitch Competition

Four winners, including undergraduate students and recent alumni, emerged from the “Rise to the Challenge” Business Pitch Competition on May 2, each receiving their own “big check” and a portion of the nearly $30,000 in prize money. The event, now in its 12th year, 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.

Two Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows and one alum were chosen for the evening’s top prizes, with the “Most Promising Business” award going to Aasha Mikha’El, founder of Uniquely in Place (U.I.P), a hair salon/ barbershop servicing children and adults with autism and other behavioral challenges. 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. Mikha’El also took home the Crowd Favorite award of $1,000.

Masie Hawkins, founder of The Dream Bra, a comfortable push-up bra that promotes beauty using irritation-free, healthy materials, took home first place in the “Aspiring Business Ventures” category, netting $2,000.

Joyson Balisamore (B.B.A. ’23) earned the top vote for “Existing Business Ventures” with his Jay’s Watermelonade, a natural beverage made without excessive sugars and artificial ingredients, capturing a $5,000 prize. Balisamore also won the Baltimore Fund Award, a $1,000 prize 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.

The winner of the $5,000 Dean’s Challenge Award was Maria Del Hoyo, Blackfoot Studio, a boutique recording studio that aims to unify Baltimore’s art and creative collective while unlocking opportunities for growth in the entertainment industry. Established by Murray Dalziel, former 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. Del Hoyo also earned the $500 “Hustle Award.” Provided by Jason Tagler, founder of Pitch Creator, the cash prize goes to the finalist who shows the most improvement during the multi-week presentation coaching program.

As an added highlight this year, Amivi Atsu, a senior Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellow delivered the keynote address. Atsu is founder of AfriVariety, an African home decor and gifts retail business, 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.

Other finalists in the competition included Erica Odoemene, founder of Eriodo Education, an online platform using gamification, AI, and personalized challenges to teach financial literacy in an engaging and adaptive experience, and Crystal Wamalwa (B.A. ’19), who created audaCITY Tours to shine a light on black artists by offering them a stage to showcase the depth and diversity of their talents in painting, music, literature, or performance.

The panel of expert judges, representing the local business and entrepreneurship community, included:

  • James Peterson, VP/Small Business Ambassador, M&T Bank
  • Trenae Watson (MS ’20), Chief Executive Officer, TLW Consulting
  • Alan Tsao (BS ’11/MBA ’21) Founder, Tsao Baltimore
  • Katie Kilby, Founder and President, Reveille Grounds

 “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 many responsibilities they face every day – including attending classes, working full-time jobs, and managing the many aspects of their personal 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.”

If you were unable to view the competition, you can watch the archive of the livestream on the Merrick School’s Facebook page.

Students enrolled in the Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows program, established in 2012 through the generosity of the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation, learn in a cohort setting with other student entrepreneurs and work with best-in-class faculty; earn a B.S. in Business Administration degree, while working to launch their own venture by graduation; receive a renewable scholarship equal to the value of full-time, in-state tuition and fees, plus a living stipend worth up to $2,000 per semester; and work with a mentor who is already a successful entrepreneur.

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 for more information.