A group photo at the RISE pitch competition. Courtesy of RISE.

RISE Collaborative, a group formed last year to promote entrepreneurship from Patrick County to Mecklenburg County, hosted the inaugural RISE Collegiate Business Plan Competition Pitch Event on Wednesday at the SOVA Innovation Hub in South Boston. The Pitch Event included presentations from five teams of college students from five different schools across the Southern Virginia region — Averett University, Danville Community College, Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University and Patrick & Henry Community College.

The competition application opened in fall 2021 and offered a series of workshops and milestones for students to complete between January and April. Students from all five schools were offered access to consulting from the Longwood Small Business Development Center and coaching from college faculty throughout the competition. Most of the student teams had been working on their business concepts prior to the competition. Through the competition, students were challenged to find mentors, conduct customer interviews, research competitors and alternative solutions, and communicate the value of their service or product. Students also learned how to identify startup costs, variable costs, and fixed costs to understand the revenue potential of their businesses. 

Their efforts culminated at the CBPC Pitch Event, where they had five minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges, with time afterward for questions from both the judges and the audience.  The judging panel included Steve Creedle of Benchmark Community Bank, Vandy Jones of the Longwood SBDC, Katherine Anne Beale of the Longwood SBDC, and Morgan Clark, founder of Epstein Clark Consulting.

First Place was awarded to Project Connect (Averett University). Project Connect is a software application that will improve communication among students at specific college campuses, designed by a group of eight Averett University students. LLeyton Barber, Cory Dellis, Gino Harris, Maleek Henderson, Lydie Kodio, Lotta Mattila, Morgan McKinney, and Kaniyah Moore comprised the Project Connect team. 

Second Place was a tie between The Ville (Longwood University) and Fail Harder Fitness (Hampden-Sydney College). The Ville is a team of three Longwood University Cormier Honors College students, Emily Harwood, Grace McCain, and Margaret Taylor, who are developing a software application to help prevent domestic abuse, especially in rural areas. Fail Harder Fitness is a unique rewards-driven fitness application co-founded by Hampden-Sydney College students Noah Selfe and Harrison Taylor, who are hoping to use their respective networks to find gym partners in Virginia and Tennessee to launch their app later this year.

Third Place was a tie between BFX Studios (Patrick & Henry Community College) and YNA (Danville Community College). BFX Studios is the innovative mobile beauty business pitched by Giselle Lopez of Martinsville, who is a current student at Patrick & Henry Community College. Lopez is already an experienced makeup artist who plans to open BFX Studios later this year. YNA, which stands for “You’re Not Alone,” is a mental health support brand pitched by Gavin Jordan of Halifax County, a current student at  Danville Community College. Jordan has already launched the YNA brand with public speaking engagements, online content creation and first runs of YNA apparel and journals.

An announcement will be forthcoming about the prize funds that will be allocated to each of the teams.

The RISE Collegiate Business Plan Competition is anticipated to be an annual event that brings together students from community colleges, four-year universities, and workforce training programs.