The final round of the Andrews University Pitch Competition took place on April 5. Photo credit: Lydia Ruckle 

June 27, 2024

Innovation Week Fosters Entrepreneurship at Andrews University

The second annual Innovation Week has left its mark on Andrews University, honoring creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurship. From April 1–5, 2024, the campus was alive with a variety of engaging events and activities.

The theme for the week was “High-Value Relationships,” referencing the biblical model of lasting relationships and highlighting the importance of collaboration and networking throughout the innovative process. The return of Innovation Week also brought back the Andrews University Pitch Competition. 

The week featured keynote speaker Pierre Quinn, CEO of The Cardell Group. An alumnus of Andrews University with degrees in communication and theology, Quinn is also the author of “Leading While Green: How Emerging Leaders Can Ripen into Effective Leaders” and “Leading While Scared: How To Find the Courage To Keep Going.” Other activities throughout the week included networking events, a vespers service and an exhibit floor which showcased booths by student start-ups. 

The final round of the third annual Pitch Competition took place on Friday, April 5, where students presented original business ideas for the opportunity to win in-kind and cash awards. The event showcased a diverse array of innovative ideas and entrepreneurial ventures, each vying for the grand prize equivalent of over $13,000. This year’s competition was sponsored by Andrews University, UChicago Medicine AdventHealth Glen Oaks, 52 Wall St, the School of Leadership at Andrews University, 38 Wall St, Andrews University’s Enactus Club and Adventist Young Professionals. 

Among the standout participants was Sofiia Ialysheva, whose project “Zahra,” a menstrual resource app tailored for Muslim women, captured the judges’ hearts and imaginations. Speaking about her inspiration and journey, Ialysheva, a senior finance major, shares, “This project is very close to my heart because I do believe that there's a big gap in education in the Middle East, especially related to women's health and menstrual health.” 

With roots in a nonprofit initiative aimed at supporting refugee girls in Lebanon, “Zahra” blossomed into a platform offering education, support and empowerment for women across various Muslim regions. Ialysheva’s project earned the first-place award of $10,000 as well as the $1,000 People’s Choice Award, highlighting the impact that Andrews students can have in addressing societal needs. Along with the monetary awards, Ialysheva also received one year of business coaching, co-working access, and business and mail service. 

Second place was awarded to the project “FreshNest,” presented by its CEO and founder Edd Joseph, junior computer science major. FreshNest is a tech platform aimed at bridging the gap between short-term rental hosts (such as Airbnb and Vrbo) and cleaners. As the second-place winner, FreshNest received $8,000 in cash from the competition sponsors. Joseph states, “These winnings will be instrumental in accelerating our development and marketing efforts. By expediting FreshNest's entry into the market, we can fulfill our mission of ‘Creating Cleaner Possibilities’ for the cleaning industry. With FreshNest, hosts can save valuable time and energy, enabling them to concentrate on delivering exceptional experiences for their guests.” 

The project “Breaking the Mold Ministry” by Devonte Gilchrist won third place and received $6,000 in cash. “Breaking the Mold Ministry” is an online church ministry focused on providing a safe space for young adults to engage with Christianity and discuss real-life issues. It originated as a service for the youth of Gilchrist’s home church but expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic to reach a broader audience. Gilchrist says, “We plan on using [the winnings] to purchase VR headsets, create a blueprint for building our Metaverse church building, have an in-person retreat and work toward baptisms.” 

Two Social Innovation Awards, each totaling $5,000 in grants for projects in Berrien County, were given to Joseph’s “FreshNest” project and the fourth-place winner “MicroGreens” by Parker Muhlenbeck, sophomore accounting major. Other winners and competitors included “The Treehouse Initiative” by Michael Owusu, “Prehtis” by Julison de Souza Mendonca and “The Teacher Preacher” by Ilka Ruiz. 

Matias Soto, director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Andrews University, sheds light on the significance of events like Innovation Week in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship within the campus community. "Innovation Week provides us with the opportunity to frame innovation and entrepreneurship according to our context," he explains. "It allows us to define how those terms relate to our Seventh-day Adventist beliefs and history, how to apply them to our unique university and how they can be used as tools to be world changers." 

This year’s Innovation Week activities were sponsored by the Andrews University Graduate Student Association (AUGSA), Center for Faith Engagement, Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship and Student Involvement, Leadership & Activities (SILA). Through partnerships like these, the event not only celebrates innovation but also fosters collaboration and networking opportunities among participants and attendees.  

The success of Innovation Week extends beyond the campus, resonating with the broader local community and igniting important conversations. Looking ahead, the event promises to continue making an impact. Soto says, "My conviction is that the students at Andrews University are amongst the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the country." As plans for the next iteration of Innovation Week take shape, the campus anticipates another chapter in the journey toward becoming a hub for innovation, creativity and positive change. 

For more information on the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Andrews University, visit their website

Founded in 1874, Andrews University is a premier institution of higher education for the Seventh-day Adventist Church and offers more than 150 areas of study, including advanced degrees. Its main campus is in Berrien Springs, Michigan, but the University also provides instruction at colleges and universities in more than 25 countries around the world. 

Nicholas Gunn, University Communication student writer