"Take the next step, whatever small, baby step that is to move your idea along. I say all of this so that you can hear your ideas outside of your head, outside of yourself, and really see that they are all worth pursuing."
The Fall 2021 49er Impact Pitch Competition featured seven undergraduate and graduate students at UNC Charlotte. These participants focused on social impact ideas, both on campus and in the community. They attended several workshops, panels and mentorship hours and learned how to talk about their ideas over the course of five weeks.
To help our 49er Impact participants, Ventureprise alumni and Venture for America representatives Miguel Avila, Allison File and Kyle Goodfellow hosted a panel discussion on entrepreneurial thinking and professional development in week two. Students also learned about customer discovery, where they would interview potential customers and users of their product and ask targeted questions.
Seven finalists went above and beyond in meeting with mentors and creating a three- to four-minute pitch for their ideas. Our 49er Impact mentors were Miguel Avila, Dr. Kim Buch, and Allison File, all of whom worked with participants to highlight their ideas and find an angle for their pitches.
49er Impact Finalists:
Plant Based Utopia, Grand Prize Winner
Caleb Achidi, Belk College of Business
Summary: According to the CDC, cancer rates are expected to increase 49% over the next 30 years. In addition to that, 34.2 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and 6 in 10 Americans have at least one chronic disease. Plant Based Utopia’s solution to this phenomenon is preventive healthcare and nutritional literacy. Plant Based Utopia will spread awareness and capital through meal prep and meal plans, recipe books, and a podcast. The earnings from this will be used to open a wellness center for a high-need population. Consumers will be able to receive nutritional literacy, mental health support, and more, free of cost.
Small Town Culture Shift, Community Impact Winner
Tonia Milam, UNC Charlotte Graduate School
Summary: Wilkes County, NC is a small town in rural northwestern North Carolina. The poverty rate in Wilkes County, NC is 15.2% which is nearly 4% higher than the national poverty rate in the country at 11.4%. Residents tend to have a negative mindset, and there is a lack of community and there are very few resources for residents to learn more about the county’s history and values. To solve this problem, Small Town Culture Shift plans to provide resources through several outlets. The first solution is to provide a website with information for residents rather than tourism and business focused platforms that are currently available. Another solution is to publish a book about Wilkes County and distribute it to local businesses and government agencies for use in promotions. This book could also be used as a resource for providing an improved, community-based curriculum in schools within Wilkes County.
Buddy Up, Campus Impact Winner
Amelia Ho, Belk College of Business
Summary: According to the American College Health Association, of 48,000 college students surveyed, 64% felt very lonely and nearly 12% of participants indicated that they had seriously considered suicide. According to UNC Charlotte’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) as well as the Center for Wellness Promotion, students are struggling with mental health, there is a high demand for individual counseling sessions and both departments are understaffed. Buddy Up would serve as a prevention resource for college students and provide support that CAPS and the Center for Wellness Promotion are unable to implement at this time. Buddy Up is based on a peer-to-peer support system, and it would act as a mentorship program made up of a student team that is specifically matched with students seeking support.
Active Descipleship, Crowd Favorite Winner
Deanna Glenn, College of Arts & Architecture
Summary: At UNC Charlotte, there are very little religious accommodations during exercise opportunities, and there is a lack of resources for certain populations on campus. Aside from exercise and wellness, a sense of belonging is an important aspect of many college student’s lives. Active Discipleship would provide a physical option for the religious and to include their needs in the campus event schedule.
Ryan Shah, Belk College of Business
Summary: Planning and scheduling classes at UNC Charlotte continues to be a difficult and tedious process for UNC Charlotte students. At this time, it is not possible to create a 4-year course plan, import or export information or receive real time reviews of courses on the university provided registration platform. Autoregis would solve this problem by providing an efficient user-friendly platform that enables students to automatically select which courses they would like to take ahead of time, plan when they would like to take each course, receive outside information about each course section and queue registration.
Abram Miller, Lee College of Engineering
Summary: In today’s society, there is a noticeable disparity between police officers and civilians. There tends to be great miscommunication during altercations that prove to be dangerous and fatal on many occasions. Currently, there is no designated place for drivers to store their license and registration. This can cause confusion and hostility during even routine stops by police officers. L&R Case is a product that would provide a consistent way for drivers to store and display their license and registration information when requested. By avoiding uncertainty, L&R Case would save the lives of both drivers and police officers.
Xuan Truong, UNC Charlotte Graduate School
Summary: Disability affects 25% of the population and 10% of university students have a disability but only 2.3% are registered with Disability Services. According to several customer discovery interviews, there is a lack of community among students with disabilities. The campus itself is physically exhausting and there are few opportunities for education around disability. The Recharge Room would solve this problem in a couple of ways. First, this would serve as a space for education and community with disability focused workshops where community can be built. Secondly, the Recharge Room would also serve as a place for students to take care of themselves in a dignified and accessible environment.
The 49er Impact Judges, Devin Collins, Dreu Dixon, and Abi Olukeye, were present for the finals to provide feedback to the students. Devin Collins, Ventureprise Director, was very impressed with this semester's pitches.
"Some of you took a very personal approach and told your story," Collins stated. "Why is this a big problem for you? You brought us into why it’s important. Others told their story and why it’s important, but then also went out and got data in customer discovery interviews and national data that shows why it’s a major problem all over."
Dreu Dixon, a 2015 UNC Charlotte and Ventureprise alumnus, recently participated in the inaugural cohort of the Inclusive Innovation Leadership Academy. He shared some experiences he had as a student, entering many competitions, some of which he did not win.
"Some of the greatest ideas are the ones that people don’t understand," Dreu said. "In the initial phases of your development, maybe some people don’t grasp it, or maybe there’s some things you need to tweak. Never let that discourage you."
Dreu advises 49er Impact participants to keep these three things in mind as they move forward with their ideas:
- What is your tagline?
- You always have competition.
- Represent your "why?" effectively.
Abi Olukeye participated in the Ventureprise Launch NSF I-CORPS program, where she founded Smart Girls HQ, a company dedicated to promoting STEM career literacy through their content, products and technology. She has since received several grants from NC IDEA and NSF SBIR Phase I to continue her research, commercialization and product development.
Here is some of Abi's advice to our 49er Impact participants:
- Always be clear about who’s paying for your product.
- Be clear about what people are currently using as an alternative.
- When you’re doing a pitch that involves money, make sure you talk about what you’ll do with the money.
"I really encourage you guys to take the next step, whatever small, baby step that is to move your idea along," Abi said. "I say all of this so that you can hear your ideas outside of your head, outside of yourself, and really see that they are all worth pursuing."
49er Impact has given students the opportunity to elevate their ideas for social impact, whether it was a program, an application, a space or a platform for change. The tools provided at our workshops and mentorships helped them take their ideas, start talking about them with others, and present stellar pitches. Click here for more information on this semester's participants and finalists.