Social Venture Challenge Brings Out Gordon’s Entrepreneurial Spirit

Some people are innovative creators of culture and others are stewards of culture.

That’s what Carter Crockett told an attentive audience that filled the Phillips Recital Hall last week. At the third annual Social Venture Challenge, Gordon’s best and brightest entrepreneurs showcased their start-up business ideas in front of an esteemed panel of judges to see who would take home their share of the $10,000 prize to kick-start their idea.

While each of the students’ presentations were polished, well-prepared, thoroughly researched and full of merit, only three could be chosen as finalists. The big winner of the night was Miray, taking home a $5,000 prize for their microfinance start-up in Madagascar, which has already been producing results and helping dozens. LaLata and Anugra took second and third place, respectively, splitting the remaining $5,000 between their two ventures.

Peter Vance ’17, founder and CEO of Miray Community Development, said, “Our team was very excited to win the Social Venture Challenge. We put in a lot of time and work and we were happy to see it pay off. As the founder I am extremely thankful for my team and all the hours they poured into this. It would not have been close to possible without their help. Winning was very encouraging because we know that we believe in what we are doing but it was encouraging to see other people get excited about it and believe in it.”

Under the umbrella of the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, the five competing groups have been working since the beginning of this semester: brainstorming, planning, researching, preparing and refining—all culminating in the pitch presentation.

The ventures included:

  • AnugraMichelle Buettner ’19, Marin Butterworth ’16 and Chloe Larson ’19
    Anugra is a textile company that crafts modern home goods that are beautiful, fair trade, and contribute towards creating better opportunities for women in India. (Read about alumna Brooke Fryer’s ’15 work with Anugra >>)
  • ConvoLingo: Adam Vigneaux ’17, Toussaint Williams ’17, Andrew Huang ’18 and Abbey Mitchell ’18
    ConvoLingo’s mission is to empower students to take their final step to fluency. ConvoLingo uses natural conversation to offer an innovative peer-to-peer supplement to English language acquisition.
  • Miray: Hunter Coleman ’16, Peter Nawoichik ’16, Kristin Fitzgerald ’16, Caleb Best ’16 and Peter Vance ’17
    Miray is a microfinance organization empowering entrepreneurs in Madagascar. Besides offering community lending at interest rates far below existing banks, Miray provides business training to ensure clients have guidance for growth.
  • LaLata: Melissa Molano ’17, Josseline Medina ’17 and Victor Cusato
    LaLata has created a revolutionary eyelash curler that drastically reduces the cost and risk associated with eyelash bending tools that dominate the market today. Furthermore, LaLata takes a stand against visual impairment, contributing a portion of profits to Visualiza eye clinics in Guatemala.
  • Stockpot Bone Broth: Anna Obert ’16 and Joe Barnhart ’18
    Stockpot provides farm to jar nutrition with a line of sippable broth products. Their goal is to delight health-conscious consumers with something to nourish while engaging and supporting local, sustainable farms.

While the students demonstrated impressive ingenuity, the judges brought decades of innovative experience to the table. Five entrepreneurial professionals, including three Gordon alumni, were brought in as the judging panel for this competitive event. They included:

  • John Boudreau ’92, Principal, Alignment Labs
  • Dale Eesley  ’87, Director, University of Nebraska, Omaha: Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising
  • Jessica Honegger, Founder and co-CEO, Noonday Collection
  • Robert Nentwig, Executive Vice President, Commercial Lending–West Coast, Boston Private Bank
  • Kevin Sherman ’94, Chief Executive Officer, True Drinks

The judges had a hard decision as each of the companies had well-planned and good-intentioned business plans that centered around social impact—from educating and employing at-risk women in India to helping hard-working people in Madagascar get started with their own businesses.

Vance went on to say, “Winning the money was a huge blessing because we have a pretty serious need right now. We are not yet registered legally as a nonprofit with nonprofit status, which means that we cannot receive tax-deductible donations yet. The money will be used to accomplish this so that we can start finding partners and donors to help us have a larger impact.”

While the winners were notably worthy and deserving, all five of the finalists showed innovation and determination. “This night was absolutely inspiring,” shared Carter Crockett, CEL’s director. “No other event could do a more convincing job of showcasing the diverse challenges that animate our students, or the pragmatic passion they possess for creating impact. These start-up founders are the ones to watch, as I think all in attendance will agree. They are truly creating culture—one new venture at a time.”

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View more photos of the event >>

By Sierra Elizabeth Flach ’18, communication arts and English language and literature (creative writing)