Participants in the first annual Andrews University pitch competition | photo credit: Darren Heslop
The program was organized by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, under direction of Matias Soto.
Students began the process by attending information sessions and workshops, before applying with a standardized pitch deck. Applications were reviewed and scored by a panel of judges, and the top twelve candidates were chosen to move into the final round. Each individual or team had seven minutes to present in the final round. The projects were diverse, with topics ranging from calculators, self-watering plants, group chat applications, snowboarding tow ropes and food service applications. In total, three non-profit teams and nine for-profit teams presented in the final competition.
Judges for the event included Elizabeth Muhlenbeck, associate professor of management at Andrews University and AdventHealth Endowed Chair in healthcare administration, Noel Salgado, HOST/CFO of Randall Residence, Austin Weber, commercial loan officer at Honor Credit Union, Joshua Sanabria, founder and CEO of GoArchitect.
Brandon Williams, a Master of Divinity and Master of Public Health candidate, served as moderator for the event. He affirms, “This Andrews University Pitch Competition is a monumental step toward cultivating the kind of innovation that has and will continue to transform education as we know it. It's a demonstration that the students at Andrews University have the creativity, grit, and passion to make a positive impact on their local communities, diverse industries, and ultimately our society's most significant challenges.” Williams sees the competition as “a declaration that Andrews University is dedicated to pairing those qualities with skills, mentorship, and resources that empower students to be World Changers in real time.”
A total of $30,000 in cash and in-kind services from the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, were distributed among six winners according to their prize level. The event was possible because of the Bradley family’s generous support. In July 2021, the family of Dr. Fay Bradley gave the university $2.8 million to launch the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. This annual pitch competition is one of the initiatives sponsored by the new office.
The first-place winner in the non-profit category was entitled Yara, a project dedicated to tackling period poverty—a lack of access to feminine hygiene products—in Lebanon. The team uses art sales and donations to fund the production of reusable feminine care kits and provide wages for local seamstresses. The project is headed by Nilah Mataafa, Nara Mataafa and Kalyapi Humpal.
Nilah Mataafa, a junior accounting major, acted as spokesperson for Yara at the competition. Mataafa expresses her excitement and gratitude for both her team and the opportunity given through the competition. She states, “I want people to know that period poverty is a global crisis that happens everywhere. There are so many women that are lacking these resources and this is just a small group of people that we get to help…. [The reality that] women aren’t able to speak about their own health issues is really saddening, so I want to bring more awareness to this movement of helping other women.”
In the for-profit category, the production company 7th Day Films, headed by Tyler Kern, took first prize. Kern, a Master of Divinity student in the Seminary, founded the company with the aim of producing high quality faith-based films and documentaries. His goal is to make a positive impact on the world through sharing the gospel, and he credits God with helping him discover both his purpose and passion.
Kern notes, “7th Day Films is a film production company that’s different from other Christian filmmaking companies because it’s an Adventist company. When we reach millennials in the next generation, we can’t just have sugar-coated material like we see in most Christian films. My passion is to produce a high quality, real film actually talking about scenarios and things that the next generation cares about and wants to know about. Things like sexuality and having doubts, social justice. I want to create films that do that.”
Other winners included Challenge Accepted, an app designed by Faith Kaluba and Lisa Kamikazi to help victims of abuse speak out, TimePiece, a calendar app created by Joshua Dulcich, Eric Inae and Matthew Dulcich with the goal of efficient time investment, Meva, a company run by Orlando Joseph Totobesola that markets hand-embroidered home accessories from local designers in Madagascar, and MikeSpace Studios, a marketing and design service run by Michael Davis that targets BIPOC businesses and creatives.
Matias Soto, director of the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, states, “We hope to create a yearly tradition with our student body in hosting this competition. Our goal is to use this pitch competition as a means to provide students with equity-free, seed money to get their business and non-profit ideas launched. If you are a student, we hope this event encourages you to broaden your horizon and get involved in entrepreneurship. If you are a faculty member, we hope you can partner with us in promoting this event with your students and even helping them develop their ideas. And for the Andrews University community, we hope that you continue to support our student entrepreneurs’ dreams, as their success will be the best evidence of our efforts on campus.”
Isabella Koh, University Communication student writer