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Stephanie Cummings of Please Assist Me wins big at the HERImpact DC pitch competition

Ten women social entrepreneurs competed for $50,000 as well as in-kind support at the second event hosted by Ford Motor Company Fund and 1863 Ventures during DC Startup week.

A rendering of the UD esports arena outside of the site. (Photo by Holly Quinn)
Another three women social entrepreneurs won big at HERImpact DC’s second pitch competition.

The joint initiative between Ford’s philanthropic arm, the Ford Motor Company Fund (Ford Fund), and 1863 Ventures, launched in November 2018 with an entrepreneurship summit. The summit was followed by the first HERImpact pitch competition on March 16, where Danya Sherman of KnoNap took first place, Arion Long of Femly took second and Fonta Gilliam of Invest Sou Sou took third.

Like its first pitch competition, applications for this second HERImpact pitch event opened up at the conclusion of another summit for women entrepreneurs in June. Yisel Cabrera, community relations manager for the Ford Fund, told that the pitch event rang in over 170 applications. It was then narrowed down to 10 women social entrepreneurs, who competed for $50,000 as well as in-kind support.

The pitch competition took place Wednesday evening at Eaton DC as part of the WeDC House at DC Startup Week, and was judged by Alyssa Gill of NextGen Venture Partners, Aurelia Flores of Athena Digital Media Group and Pamela Alexander of the Ford Fund.

The winners are as follows:

  • First place —Stephanie Cummings of Please Assist Me (PAM) received $25,000
  • Second place — Lina Zdruli of Dafero received $20,000
  • Audience Choice — LaQuida Chancey of Smalltimore Homes received $5,000

Both Cummings and Zdruli competed in the growth-stage category, while Chancey won on the crowd as an early-stage competitor. Chancey’s venture addresses affordable housing by creating micro shelters and tiny homes.

Cummings wowed the packed crowd with her three-minute presentation. PAM curates a tech platform that connects people with reliable assistants to help them manage day-to-day chores and tasks, and it specifically partners with apartment complexes. The company originally launched in Nashville, Tennessee, before relocating to the District in January. Cummings said the winning funds will help the company expand to more apartment complexes and hire more PAM assistants.

“I am elated, over the moon, shocked still. I think it will hit me when I bring that big check in the door,” Cummings said moments after accepting first place last night. “Tonight it was all about showing how we’re helping women, how we’re employing women, how we’re providing a safe place to work.”

Cummings said she currently has about 10 PAM assistants, all women, who handle all of the tasks. The company is currently hiring for more home assistants.

This isn’t the last you’ll hear from Cummings this week: She advanced to the final Vinetta Project competition after competing in a semifinalist round in June, and will be competing at the premiere event tonight. She will also be pitching at the DC Startup Week pitch competition tomorrow night.

Zdruli’s venture Dafero creates sugar-free sweets for those with dietary restrictions and employs vulnerable women in communities, including refugee women and former trafficking victims, according to a press release.

Lina Zdruli, founder of Dafero, pictured with the HERImpact DC judges. (Photo by My Bella Images LLC)

Cabrera, who was a part of the team that launched the first HERImpact pitch competition in Detroit in 2018, told that the HERImpact pitch competition is ready to expand to more markets, and that we could expect to see a national competition years down the road as the program expands.

“I always walk away so inspired by the businesses that the women have created because not only are they creating a sound business that’s making money, but they are actually finding a way to help their communities along the way, which is just amazing,” Cabrera said.


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