June 4th 2015-- It was a little past 6:00 pm in a spacious conference room of CUNY Central Office. Even with the air conditioning on, you could see small beads of sweat forming on some faces while others paced around near the pastries in the back of the room; some hugged their loved ones close while others took a deep exhale into complete silence and quietly sat there as the judges deliberated the winners of 2015 SmartPitch Challenge.
Before I unveil the winners, I'd like to tell you about my day. I saw a multiple presentations spanning across four areas of focus, also known as "tracks": education, healthcare, smarter cities and sustainability. I had candid, one-on-one conversations in the elevator, in the bathroom, midst lunch and presentation breaks. I was left with sigh of relief from teams and a sense of accomplishment for making it to the Final Event; there's an air of hardworking dreamers pacing around in every corner you turned. Your taste buds were left with a sense of hope and persistence. Each entrepreneur survived three phases, hustled enough votes from mentors to make it to the Final Event and practiced their pitches in cars, subways and in front of mirrors over and over (and over again…..). I think this whole experience positively changed them since the beginning of SmartPitch in January 2015. It was demanding and above all else, they were forced to take ideas into action and take control of their own life. They learned lessons in business and in life.
Jody-ann Allen, Founder of Diva Designers, participated in the CSE Incubator Program, SmartPitch 2015 and in several other pitch competitions, commented "it's nice to connect with those that share your struggles and the vision of a dream coming true-- I’ve learned about e-commerce and sales from other students in coworking. I've become more confident and I’ve learned to be resilient." Isn’t it ironic that diamonds are also formed under a similar kind of pressure? This is the type of beauty and resiliency that can be seen in each student entrepreneur including Jody-ann Allen.
After a half hour of deliberation around 6:30 pm, Aaditya Kumarakrishnan, Co-founder of Teslab and former contest of Smart Pitch 2014, announced the winners. The breakdown of prizes includes a Grand Prize of $15,000, a Track Prize of $5,000, a "Most Innovative App" award of $3,000 and a "Fan Favorite" prize of $2,000. Think Olio won both the Grand Prize and the Education Track prize totaling $20,000 in funding. The reaction from the contestants encompassed a range of emotions: some were left hopeful, some were left discouraged and others were left motivated; ironically enough, the prize winners collectively were left tired, humbled and/or purely excited. The full list of winners can be found here.
I want to leave you with a Chinese proverb that I find resonates with entrepreneurs: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now".
That idea seeded in your mind could grow into a 20 year old business overcoming obstacles along the way, gaining wisdom in its tree trunk and finding purpose in its roots. Plant the tree you have always dreamed of and take the risk of entrepreneurship. What are you waiting for?