Student Entrepreneurs Compete to Develop Socially Impactful Business Ventures

$5,000 in prize money was awarded to student-led businesses aimed at driving social change.

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This October, nearly two dozen AU undergraduate and graduate students competed for a $5,000 prize pool to pitch business ideas geared towards maximizing social impact during an event hosted by American University's Center for Innovation (AUCI).  

The inaugural Pitch-for-Big-Change competition is part of AUCI's mission of teaching students to identify opportunities for positive change in the business world, develop entrepreneurial mindsets, and launch new ventures. The competition included 21 students pitching their ideas in 60 seconds or less. The concepts stretched far and wide, from ideas for helping shelter pets find their perfect homes to creating spaces for community collaboration on sustainability to vertical farms, composting initiatives, and mobile groceries, to tools to reduce the carbon footprint of air travel, and much more.  

"Through the Pitch-for-Big-Change Competition, competitors channeled their passion for making a social impact into compelling plans for action. Listening to students present their ideas with poise and confidence provided an inspirational look into the future—a time when our students will graduate from AU to become the changemakers of the future," said Danielle Vogel, Kogod School of Business professor and the assistant director of the AU Center for Innovation. "I could not feel more hopeful knowing that they are already working to innovate solutions to some of society's most pressing challenges." 

The competition was created by Vogel, who in addition to helping students launch business ventures with AUCI, is a professor at Kogod and the Washington College of Law, focusing on the intersection between sustainability and entrepreneurship. About 65 percent of her student ventures are minority or women-owned. 

The top prize winners were undergraduate students, John Burzawa, CAS/SIS and Max Kluger, SPA. Their non-profit, Hatchling helps small to mid-size companies who might otherwise lack the resources to leverage digital innovation, by connecting them with industry-leading technologists who customize technology that will help improve efficiency and accelerate the company’s growth.  They took home a $2,500 prize.  

"The Pitch for Big Change Competition was a fantastic experience from start to finish, and we’re extremely grateful for the inspiration this opportunity provided. Hatchling started as an idea to facilitate digital tools for small businesses—an issue we both connected to personally. Now, based on our feedback from the competition, we’re excited to move forward by turning our ideas into tangible efforts." 

Additional winners included:  

Amanda Kirkpatrick, SPA won the runner-up prize of $1,250 for her online financial education guide for teenagers. It shows teens step-by-step how to perform financial tasks like opening a bank account, filing taxes, checking a credit report, understanding the difference between credit and debit cards, and other duties. 

Indali Bora won $750 for her e-learning technology and the audience favorite was Darla Davenport-Powell, from the School of Education who won a $500 prize for the 29203 Project. It is a "Full-filling Station" a pop-up wellness truck for 29203 community, in Columbia, South Carolina.

 "The feedback from the judges was invaluable, the audience support was encouraging, and the $500 prize money was a huge win for my community," says Davenport-Powell. "It is super special to win the 'Audience Favorite' award because it comes from my peers and their vote lets me know that I’m on the right track."

The judges included AU alumni and alumni of AUCI’s Incubator program, KaDeadra McNealy, Nayana Guerrero, Garrett Ramela, Abolaji Omitogun, Haben S. Ghebremeschel, and Caron Garcia Martinez. The event was held in partnership with the Kogod Center for Business Professionalism and Communication. 

AUCI plans to hold the Pitch-for-Big-Change Competition every fall and is looking forward to students bringing their innovative and changemaking ideas.

Learn more about American University's Center for Innovation and its work to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs here.