Five entrepreneurs were awarded a total of $45,000 in prize money for the 2016 LaunchU venture accelerator and pitch competition. Now in its fourth year, LaunchU provides resources, training, advisors, connections, and investment capital to help start, accelerate, and grow Oberlin community members’ ventures.
Alesandra Zsiba ’10 received the grand prize of $20,000 for The Identity Project, a program that uses documentary arts to foster identity development in underserved youth. Brandon McKenna, Matthew Fox, and Soren Zeliger ’15 were awarded $15,000 for Storybook, a consumer-oriented mobile app that enables users to enjoy real-time documentation, sharing, and storage of media from multiple perspectives. And Bryon Skvor received $10,000 for Humble Grounds Roasting Company, a company that seeks out, roasts, and sells exceptional coffees that can be used to create stable economies in farming communities around the world.
Holford, who joined the Oberlin community in October 2015, says this year’s program built on the successes of prior years to create a better overall experience for everyone from participants to judges and reviewers. “Using the feedback we had from previous years, we had a slightly tighter timeline in terms of the amount of time teams could pitch and the amount of time for questions,” she says. “We also built in a live feedback loop so reviewers and interested parties could have time with the teams to ask more questions and give feedback.”
These feedback sessions included members of the LaunchU Executive Committee, who served as judges for the pitch competition. “They were positive change,” Holford says of the sessions. “Teams were able to have direct feedback and hear a different set of questions, reviewers who had given up their day to be with us were able to dig a little deeper into the ideas and also share their thoughts and reflections, and the judges heard the reflections of other people who had heard the pitches and had their own questions. [The sessions] really affected the judging in a great way.”
With this year’s accelerator and pitch competition behind her, Holford is focusing on teaching Introduction to Entrepreneurship and further refining the LaunchU program for next year. “I can say with confidence there will be even more refinements and tweaks to the process. I’m also working hard to be sure people know that Oberlin is not only a place for new ideas but it is also a place for making those new ideas happen. This program is designed for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and locals to know there’s a place you can go that will always be here ready to share expertise on how to start things up and bring ideas to reality.”
For more information about LaunchU, including more about the 2016 pitch competition winners and other participants, visit oclaunchu.com.