This spring, the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I) was enjoying what looked to be a banner year for the program, with eight students headed to national venture competitions on the strength of their venture ideas in progress.
“It was the best national showing for our program in a single year to date,” E+I Executive Director Yvonne English said. “It is extremely difficult to make it to the finals of these types of competitions, so to have three different teams do so is unbelievable and a testament to the high caliber of our students and program.”
Juniors Elizabeth Finnegan ’21 and Elizabeth Higgins ’21 made the cut to compete in the final round of the Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition at Texas Christian University, a contest with a $100,000 grand prize, to present their pitch for Embark Health, an app for patients and their families recently diagnosed with slow onset, terminal neurological diseases. The app is designed to help overcome the emotional paralysis that often accompanies these life changing diagnoses, offering tangible next steps, information, and community support.
Two other Grove City College-fostered ventures were selected as finalists in the e-Fest/Schulze Entrepreneurship Challenge at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis: Safe Snack, a business offering snack boxes that help hosts properly accommodate dietary restrictions for any occasion; and Treecup Tea, a beverage manufacturer and distributor that promises to plant a tree in Haiti for every bottle sold.
Safe Snack, which won second place at Startup Weekend Pittsburgh and was accepted in the 2020 GCC VentureLab cohort, includes students Gretta Kriner ’21, Shaylin Duren ’22, Bailey Martin ’21, Rachel Puls ’21 and Emily Merrick ’21. Senior Mark Sotomayor ’20 founded Treecup Tea, which is now being test-marketed in Pittsburgh-area Whole Foods stores, during his freshman year and has been supported by E+I programs such as VentureLab and Venture U since its inception.
And then coronavirus happened. Like so many other events and activities that draw a crowd and require travel, the competitions were cancelled in response to the national call to practice social distancing and various state stay-at-home orders.
Losing out on the chance to test their ideas against other student entrepreneurs is a bitter pill to swallow, but the Safe Snack and Treecup Tea teams were each rewarded with a $3,000 prize, thanks to the generous support of the Richard M Schulze Family Foundation. The Schulze Foundation also awarded the Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation a grant of $2,000 for supporting two finalist teams.
In response to the pandemic, Grove City College sent students home and switched to online delivery of classes. E+I is also working remotely with students, identifying virtual activities and events that can help them continue to grow as entrepreneurs and innovators, English said.
“The E+I team has worked incredibly hard to change up everything midstream in order to best serve our constituency. We’ve been able to find and curate virtual opportunities for our students and community to continue learning about the world of entrepreneurship and innovation from home. One great thing about our sector Is that it’s pretty flexible, and we saw virtual versions of events come out quite quickly.”
For more about Entrepreneurship at Grove City College, visit www.gccentrepreneurship.com.