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Aquinas Entrepreneurial Teams Sweep Major Awards at MWest Challenge

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Several Aquinas College business students recently teamed up and excelled at the MWest Challenge, West Michigan’s regional business plan competition. More than $12,000 in prize money was awarded to college teams that entered the competition and developed new ventures based on their own ideas. Aquinas College was well-represented in the final standings of the April event, with three separate teams winning award money for their ideas and execution in this student venture competition, including the overall contest winner.

A total of 140 college teams entered this year’s challenge, including other teams from Calvin University, Cornerstone University, Davenport University, Ferris State University, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University, Hope College, Kendall College of Art and Design, and Kuyper College. 

In the end, Aquinas College stood tall among its West Michigan counterparts by sweeping the three main categories. It is the first time at the MWest Challenge that one college took first place in all three flights.

"Competitive events, such as the MWest Challenge, help our Aquinas College students improve and polish their skills so they are better able to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive marketplace," said adjunct professor Felix Pereiro. "They learn for themselves what entrepreneurs go through during the early startup stage and the hard work that goes into creating an outstanding executive summary, presentation, and idea pitch."

Competing students had access to resources, mentors, educational workshops, and opportunities to network with angel and venture capital investors. The competition began with a three-page executive summary of the business idea from each team. All summaries were judged by three judges, with the average of the scores being used to rank each team, with the top teams qualifying for the ‘finals’ or the ‘showcase.’

Because of a tie, nine teams qualified for the finals, which included a five-minute live pitch to experienced entrepreneurial business leaders from the community, held at Grand Rapids Community College. The next 24 teams in the rankings were split into ‘Showcase A’ and ‘Showcase B’ (with no distinction between the two). These pitches were conducted online and judged by a different group of business leaders with entrepreneurial experience.

Finishing in first place out of the 140 teams entered into the competition was Jenny Fischer-Roberts, a solo participant with her winning idea ‘Second Family Services.’ Fischer-Roberts was awarded $3,250 for her first-place finish, as teams from Cornerstone and Grand Valley State placed second and third, respectively. ‘Second Family Services’ was created to assist family members of those recently deceased in handling legal issues, documents and remaining affairs. Fischer-Roberts’ idea for ‘Second Family Services’ included partnering with local organizations to form a one-stop-shop and taking care of those sometimes overwhelming tasks for the family, allowing them to properly grieve without spending time worrying about such decisions.

The first place winner of ‘Showcase A’ was the team of Caleb Koster, Ryan Mulder, Samantha Teachworth, and Jean Tissot with their idea titled ‘Automated Pasture.’ The quartet of ‘Automated Pasture’ finished ahead of teams from Hope and Calvin. ‘Automated Pasture’ was created to provide an accessible way for small farm businesses to scale up their meat production while minimizing labor and infrastructure costs. Using solar technology and a pivoting pie, farmers can reduce their labor and feed costs as the automated pasture would rotate without the need for the physical labor of moving the structure on a daily basis.

Finishing in first place in ‘Showcase B’ was ‘Pipeline,’ pitched by the duo of Steve Garvey and Peter Kooi. ‘Pipeline’ topped ideas from teams at Grand Rapids Community College and Kendall College of Art and Design. With inspiration as current Aquinas esports competitors, Garvey and Kooi developed ‘Pipeline’ to be a collegiate esports recruiting website that directly connects students with collegiate esports coaches. The duo best described it as the LinkedIn of the esports gaming industry. Both ‘Automated Pasture’ and ‘Pipeline’ took home $1,250 for their ideas.

A trio of AQ students - Ella Goodman, Regina Mondro, and Joanna Quintino - also reached the finals with their group ‘Realle,’ placing in the top nine out of 140 teams. The group’s idea focused on those who value hair care and sustainability, as the current market lacks products catering to both of these needs. Named ‘The Realle Solution,’ the group came up with the idea of hair care product refilling stations, focusing on the elements of convenience and quality, while helping reduce waste and remaining sustainable.

“Aquinas College students come from a community of immeasurable strength and capacity to excel,” Pereiro explained. “Higher education is about providing the right environment to help people flourish and obtain their greatest God-given potential. One way we provide this is by providing an environment that is intentional in its dedication and commitment to diversity and inclusiveness, where all voices are heard and respected. We provide an atmosphere of expectancy, which is the breeding ground for miracles for each and every student walking through the doors of Aquinas College. We help make this world better one student at a time!”

Thanks to Mark O’Toole and Bill Foley for providing information for this story.