Congratulations to our 2023 Rise to the Challenge finalists! On Thursday, April 27, we'll watch as they present their business pitches to a panel of expert judges, vying for nearly $30,000 in seed money and in-kind professional services. Please join us for this exciting event.
This year's finalists, consisting of undergrads, graduate students and alumni, will compete in two separate business categories: Aspiring Business Ventures and Existing Business Ventures.
The 2023 finalists and their business categories are:
2023 Rise to the challenge: Aspiring business ventures
Serena Brontide, CEO and owner of Synapse Collective, makers of "Rooms," an interactive online learning platform that uses 3D technology to create an immersive experience. An English/Creative Writing undergraduate who transferred to UBalt in 2022, Brontide notes virtual learning has become a new norm for students and educators around the world. Making that interesting and interactive can be a challenge. Brontide says the startup seeks to gamify and make online learning more immersive.
"Being an entrepreneur is the ultimate exercise in self-trust," Brontide says. "There are always going to be good, solid reasons to give up or turn back, but an entrepreneur trusts themself to reach the finish line."
Tyeisha Pinnock, MBA '19, is a foodie at heart with an entrepreneurial spirit. As owner of Dip'T, a line of vegetarian food for people who love to try new snacks, and who love to support locally made products, Pinnock turned her cooking hobby into a career shortly after she made her first batch of homemade dip in 2017. Her dips were such a hit that she began selling pans of it to friends and family. After a few months, her dip brand Dip't was officially up and running.
"Being an entrepreneur means pursuing your passion to the fullest without any 100 percent guarantee of success but doing it anyway because it's what you love to do and you're confident in yourself, your product or your service," Pinnock says. "UBalt's MBA program equipped me for success. I had access to networking opportunities, resources and internships that shaped me into the businesswoman I am today."
Jonah Willard, B.S. '23, loves working on project cars. One day, he'd love to own a shop where fellow car enthusiasts can come together and work on their own cars. That's where his business idea, Grease Garage, comes in. This DIY auto shop will offer communal workspaces, tools, lifts, storage and more to those who want to repair their vehicles. The garage will also offer skills training to underserved people interested in learning more about automotive repairs.
"Joining UBalt's Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows program was the main reason I decided to attend UBalt and pursue my business idea," says Willard. "The access to the mentors, programs and accelerators have driven me."
2023 Rise to the challenge: existing business ventures
Mario Izquierdo, a B.S. in Business Administration student, founded his company Limitir with a vision and love for cars. This 3D-printed auto parts marketplace allows customers to find and print their own car parts, saving them time and money.
Izquierdo credits Bob Parsons, B.S. '75, D.H.L. '08, founder and chairman of GoDaddy, for giving him the drive to pursue his business idea.
"I remember in 2012, I met Bob Parsons at UBalt and he told me something I will never forget: 'Find a way to make money in your sleep.' Ever since then," Izquierdo says, "it has been a consistent pursuit of that goal."
Joanne Jones, a B.S. in Business Administration student and a Ratcliffe E-fellow, founded Kenyan Kutie, which imports and sells authentic, vibrant jewelry made by entrepreneurs in Kenya, with the belief that every purchase has a purpose. The company donates 10 percent of net sales to a non-profit in Kenya while directly supporting Kenyan artists and entrepreneurs.
"UBalt provided a scholarship and stipend that allowed me to pursue my business venture," Jones says. "My [Ratcliffe Entrepreneurship Fellows] cohort is the biggest inspiration; they understand what I'm going through and support my business ideas."
Angel King, MBA '19, owns Silent Books Publishing, a minority-owned business for aspiring and seasoned minority authors that offers a variety of self-publishing services.
"Being an entrepreneur is solving a problem for a particular group of people," says King, who is currently enrolled in UBalt's Creative Writing and Publishing Arts MFA. "It is creative, nontraditional, and motivational thinking. It is never being stagnant but constantly evolving into something greater and more efficient than the last solution."