Annie Bell '17
Walk around the ITT on any given Friday afternoon, and it’s rare you’ll find 150 students gathered around 49 display booths, dressed in professional attire. The Smith College Center for Women and Financial Independence (WFI) hosted the third annual Draper Undergraduate Women Entrepenuers’ Competition on Friday, April 10.
The four-hour-long event began at 3 p.m. and featured activities backdropped by music provided by WOZQ. It featured door prizes, bingo, a juggler, a photo booth, candy, fruits, cheeses and a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar.
Forty-nine student teams from 18 institutions competed for over $25,000 in cash and prizes. First place was awarded $10,000 plus a full scholarship to Draper University of Heroes — a 10-week program in Silicon Valley that nurtures entrepreneurs through the business-creation process.
Student teams presented their ideas to judges and attendees from 3 to 5 p.m. From these 90-second pitches, judges narrowed down what teams would make it to the presentation round. The services and products varied widely: mobile applications that allow the storage and sharing of medical information, find access to a tailor around-the-clock, offer safe routes and notifications for runners, find the best dishes nearby and participate in a live stream that facilitates instantaneous formations of study groups. Stores featured products such as eco-friendly clothing, organic bread, handmade jewelry and GPS necklaces and earrings.
Then came the presentation round. Each of the 12 finalists — Amherst Store, NiuPiao, PEDAL, Restaurante Volando, RedHead Wine, Superego, LLC, Sandbox, Dynamize, Thimble, Electronics 101, Lendlytics and Dynamize — had 90 seconds to give their pitch and answer three minutes of questioning from the panel of judges.
Following the presentation round, the judges deliberated and decided on first, second and third place winners. Masti, the Smith College Bollywood Fusion Dance Team, entertained attendees and competitors during the wait.
Melissa Draper ’77 and Tim Draper, founder of the global capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, sponsored the competition. The two hope Smith will become a leading entrepreneurial school for women, spearheaded by the Draper Competition.
Melissa Draper said she believes that the competition pays homage to founder Sophia Smith, who performed “an amazing entrepreneurial trick in leaving a bequest for an area she thought hadn’t been filled — allowing women to receive a college education” and hopes it becomes a “mecca” for entrepreneurs to share ideas and network.
And it seems like their vision might not be too far away.
“Nothing promotes leadership, particularly female leadership, as much as this,” said Yekaterina Sapozhnina, CEO of succor.co and president of the Wesleyan Entrepenuership Society.
“At Wesleyan, the entrepreneurship club holds lectures and workshops. Our competitions aren’t nearly as big, and we’re competing for a much smaller opportunity and amount of money,” added Zapozhnina.
“The competitions get increasingly bigger and more professional, showcasing more creativity and drive from students,” said Marea Wexler, an attendee of all three competitions.
The increase in size and grandeur of the event is partially due to the increased recruitment effort by the WFI, which sent representatives to nearby colleges to spread word about the competition.
“Finding eligible applicants for this competition was difficult because there is less overt interest in entrepreneurship from women on the [Amherst] campus. Rather than go to the entrepreneurship club, which mostly consists of men, I went to the CS club and other clubs on campus,” said Ursula Olender, Director of the Career Center at Amherst College.
“I worked individually with teams to perfect proposals, organized a pitch competition, and encouraged student leaders interested in the area to inspire their peers,” stated Olender.
Marissa Sergi, a senior at Cornell University, was recruited via Twitter. After noticing a need for a “fun and aesthetic” wine in 2012, she founded RedHead Wine. Noticing her initiative, a Smith representative tweeted Sergi, encouraging her to apply to the competition.
However, Sergi reported that she knew very little about the process and had minimal contact with Smith College after the tweet. She had no idea she needed to prepare a pitch for the event, let alone present in front of over 100 people and endure a three-minute Q&A.
First place went to Mojia Shen, a first-year from Wellesley. Her winning idea, Restaurane Volando, stemmed from Shen’s experience studying abroad in Mexico. Starting in Monterey, Mexico, the service promotes empowerment of women not in the labor force. A food production and delivery service, the business model relies on food preparation and delivery by women at every level.
In second place was Kate Lowry, a Mt. Holyoke student who created Lendlytics—advertised as “data science applied to lending, investing 2.0.” Lowry won $7,500 and a scholarship to Draper University.
Third place was secured by Jaleli Bekele from Mt. Holyoke. Bekele created PEDAL, a company based in Ethiopia which, “aims to make polyester from recycled plastic bottles while creating more than a thousand jobs.” Buckle was awarded $5,000 and a scholarship to Draper University.
The audience favorite was Candid World, lead by Smith student Brea Dutt ’16. Dutt advertised Candid World as a “website that brings everyday life and culture from across the globe into homes and classrooms through a curation of videos and online media.” Dutt was awarded $500.
As stated in an e-mail distributed by the WFI, “judges were blown away by the passion, maturity and technicality of the business plans presented.”