Three teams of entrepreneurs were awarded a total of $45,000 during the LaunchU pitch competition on Saturday, March 4. Now in its fifth year, the LaunchU program stewards Oberlin students, alumni, faculty, and staff entrepreneurs through business-model innovation curriculum and prepares them to launch a venture.
Selected from a record-high number of accepted teams, nine ventures presented their cases to a panel of judges during the weekend pitch competition. Of these, just three groups were awarded seed capital.
Kelsey Scult '14 and Mary Okoth '14 received $20,000 for Bar None, a multidisciplinary art space for formerly incarcerated people in New Orleans. Helen Fleischer '18 was awarded $15,000 for IntimaQ, an intimate apparel company for customers "outside of the binary organization system." Sophie Mvurya '16, who pitched From the Block to the Booth, a state-of-the-art mobile recording studio service, was awarded $10,000.
Bar None founders Scult and Okoth will create a space for formerly incarcerated people to take art classes, exhibit and sell their art, have access to art supplies and resources, host community art events, and collaborate with artists in residence. For the pair, the impetus to participate in LaunchU came from the realization that, in order to successfully execute their ideas and to better serve their community, they would need to hone their business skills. “We knew that, if given the opportunity to participate, the LaunchU competition would provide us with an invaluable professional development experience,” says Scult. “From creating a business model to refining our 30-second elevator pitch, we received an incredible introduction to the entrepreneurship essentials critical to the success of any start-up.”
Fleischer, whose company IntimaQ aims to provide comfortable and affordable dailywear underwear for trans and gender nonconforming people, as well as anyone who wants underwear outside of a binary organizational system, emphasized the transformative nature of the LaunchU program. “I went into it with this out-there idea and came out of the program with a fully formed company,” says Fleischer. While her company was in its nascent stages when she entered the program, it has now progressed to the early prototype stage. “Since day one, everyone involved was so incredibly supportive that IntimaQ just picked up steam quickly,” says Fleischer.
Block to the Booth’s Mvurya and her co-founder, artist Tyrell Carter, describe their venture as “the Uber for recording studios.” Through it, they will provide clients with cutting-edge sound equipment in an environment that inspires and nurtures their creativity. The two found that participating in LaunchU bolstered the belief that their product could succeed. “The experience added to our confidence that this venture is possible,” says Mvurya. “It has further validated our strengths, talents, and ideas, giving both my co-founder and me the extra push to chase our dreams and goals.”
LaunchU is organized through the office of Creativity & Leadership at Oberlin. For information about LaunchU, including more about the 2017 pitch competition, visit oclaunchu.com.