How the student entrepreneurs at UB's Rise to the Challenge pitch night are thinking about impact - Baltimore


Jul. 13, 2020 5:50 pm

How the student entrepreneurs at UB’s Rise to the Challenge pitch night are thinking about impact

At the virtual finale of this year's competition, the founders' words about how their businesses are connecting communities and creating sustainable business practices stood out.
Participants in UB’s 2020 Rise to the Challenge Business Competition.

Participants in UB's 2020 Rise to the Challenge Business Competition.

(Courtesy photo)

The University of Baltimore’s Rise to the Challenge business pitch competition went virtual this year, but it remained a live event.

The annual competition that showcases student entrepreneurs at the Midtown university was among the collection of local pitch events that saw plans change as the pandemic curtailed live gatherings this spring. But in the case of UB, the June 10 event was still was complete with pitches in tight time windows and on-the-spot questions from judges, words from program supporters, and host and CEI Director Henry Mortimer. Making it work behind the scenes was a video crew headed up by Zephan Moses Blaxberg.

The format wasn’t the only thing that reflected the times. In all, seven businesses pitched on the night, with many talking about how their products fit into a market that has been morphed by the COVID-19 pandemic and calls for racial justice.

“They’re all impressive, and it is my hope that I’m not the only one who feels that way — 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,” Mortimer said.

Throughout the pitches, founders presented the details of new products and how they would sell them. But it was also clear that these founders see starting new businesses as a way to connect communities and change business practices to help society, and the earth. In that spirt, let’s take a look some of the takeaways on how these entrepreneurs are looking to make an impact:

“If mindfulness allows you to see a problem, STEAM education is going to be the way the future generation solves them.”

With Mindful Designs, Brian Furr founded a company that manufactures “My Furr’s Guitar,” a one-string guitar that teaches music through a color-coded system, and includes 3D-printed STEAM education kits. Furr talked about creating a micro-factory to produce the kits. The company also has online education content called the Paint Build Play Academy. Furr won the biggest monetary prize on the night, as he was awarded the Most Promising Business award of $15,000, which is supported by the Jay Ripley Entrepreneurship Fund. He also won $5,000 as the top prize in the Existing Business Ventures category, which is for companies that have started to earn revenue.


“There’s nothing quite like the experience of shopping local.”

Torianne Montes-Schiff founded Almano to offer a seasonal subscription box with natural handmade goods, like jewelry, art prints and health and beauty products. The mission behind the business takes a community-level focus to support local artists and makers. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mission has remained in focus as the team has made protective masks and started a video series to instruct others how to make them from household items. As winner of the competition’s Aspiring Business Ventures, Almano won $2,000.

“We all know the best way to anyone’s heart is through their stomach and these local restaurants are the direct line to the heart of the Baltimore community.”

James Soldinger is cofounder of Flave, an app that helps find restaurants. It is specifically catered toward local restaurants, which are facing a particular challenge in the pandemic, with tools for users to learn about locally owned establishments and get rewarded for eating at them, as well as a way to see friends’ recommendations. With an MVP, the product is in beta testing. It was the first winner of the competition’s first Baltimore Fund Award of $500 from the University System of Maryland, which supports Baltimore city-focused civic and ethical engagement. The company also won the night’s $500 Hustle Award, which goes to the entrepreneur who showed the most improvement in Pitch Creator, the locally built course which is part of the program’s prep activities.

“There are tens of millions of people who wish they had the opportunity to garden, but can’t due to their confined living space.”

With Bloom Box, Kevin McHugh created a subscription box service that plants the seeds for a garden of microgreens to bring some new life to small homes. Taking a focus on people living in elder care facilities, the company also offers workshops to engage folks. The company won the crowd favorite award, which earned $1,000.

“Coming from someone who has a family member suffering from the effects of dementia, Bloom Box is more than a company aiming to make a profit. We are a company aiming to make a difference,” McHugh said.

“Anything can be beautiful if given a new life and a purpose.”

That sentiment is from Nicole Mighty, CEO and head designer of Spiked Orchids, which is repurposing materials to create new products such as handbags and hats. The company upcycles materials that go unused from clients, seeking to reduce waste in the process. Mighty is looking to expand marketing, as well as take new space for production.

With a similar ethos, Juliana Stube’s JES Made is applying a sustainability focus to bring new products to market for pets. The luxury pet accessories line offers products like a harness made from a suede jacket that Stube showed. After some immediate success on Etsy, she is eyeing a Kickstarter campaign. Going forward, JES Made is looking to work with local small-batch manufacturers.

“There was a huge gap in the market for a product created to treat nail biting by a nail biter.”

With Nail Quail, Adrian Nelson and Igor Shteynbuk have zeroed in on an authentic entry point to the market for nail-biting antidotes. When they conducted the market analysis for the product, they also found that many products were toxic. They even found that flammability warnings were true. So they set out to create an “organic, invisible and bitter” product, which is called Strong Will. With sales already, they’re looking to grow marketing and USDA certification.

Watch the whole show below:

The 8th Annual Rise to the Challenge Business Pitch Competition

The “Rise to the Challenge” competition, sponsored by UB’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, is designed to generate awareness of new and emerging innovative business ventures nurtured by the UB community. The annual event, now in its eighth year, provides an opportunity for members of the greater UB community to pitch ideas and concepts for new and existing businesses before a live audience of their peers, UB staff and entrepreneurial experts. This year, a panel consisting of undergrads, grad students and alumni, will compete, in two separate business categories, for more than $20,000 in seed money and in-kind professional services. Judges representing the local business ecosystem and the UB community will join together to select the winners.

Posted by University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business on Wednesday, June 10, 2020


Already a contributor? Sign in here
Connect with companies from the community
New call-to-action


Sign-up for daily news updates from Baltimore

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!