Several Mercy College students competed in the Westchester Community College (WCC) Student Pitch Competition on November 20, 2020. Of the five Mercy student groups who applied to the competition, four were invited to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges in the final round. Mercy student Robbie Guglielmo ’23 won second prize, which included a cash award of $500.
In the final round of the competition, Janet Gomez ’23 and Emily Modzdziak ’24 pitched an online career platform, Guglielmo pitched his existing clothing brand, Rob&Kenneth, and Shayna Lue ’21 pitched a portable pillow and blanket set. Etsio Flores ’21 was also invited to pitch in the final round. “Pitching was nerve-racking at first,” said Gomez, “but it was very motivational for me to emphasize why our idea works and why it's profitable.”
After each pitch, the judges asked the students questions about their business idea and gave feedback. The judges encouraged Gomez and Modzdziak, for example, to conduct a survey of prospective customers in order to gauge interest and to create a prototype in order to help showcase their business idea. The judges gave Guglielmo some tips about how to enhance his website. “The website feedback was really helpful,” he said.
Several of the students who entered the WCC Student Pitch Competition have been preparing since October for Mercy’s Business Planning Competition, which will happen in the spring and is open to students from across Mercy College. School of Business Assistant Professor and Assistant Dean Scorpio Rogers, who manages entrepreneurship activities across the Dobbs Ferry, Bronx and Manhattan Campuses, encouraged students who had been developing their business plans to participate in the WCC competition: “I wanted them to get the experience of pitching so they can be more confident once they’re pitching in the Mercy competition and to get feedback to make their business plans even better.”
Rogers asserts that Mercy encourages the entrepreneurial spirt or knowledge and that there is increasing demand from employers for entrepreneurial graduates. “We've all heard of the old paradigm where people go to college to get a good job,” he said. “There's a newer paradigm now, which is that people go to college to create their own jobs. Here at Mercy, we’re helping students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and understand that they can take control of their own destiny and create their own jobs — not just for themselves but for other people too.”
School of Business professors have been offering weekly sessions to help students prepare for the Business Planning Competition. Adjunct Instructor Robert Bohn teaches students how to look at the competitive landscape and manage their operations, Instructor Susan Cooper teaches them how to market their businesses, Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Chair for the School of Business Abdel-Kader Ben-Mohamed teaches them entrepreneurial finance and Instructor Mahmud Wazihullah teaches them how to pitch.
“It's been a great experience so far,” said Modzdziak, who has attended many of the weekly sessions. “The professors have been very helpful in their sessions, and they truly care about teaching us the material. They're not just taking us through a textbook. For example, we just had a Zoom meeting with Bohn, and he gave us many different tips and tricks as to how to make our pitch stand out.”
Beyond the Business Planning Competition and the weekly sessions, there are many other activities for aspiring or current entrepreneurs at Mercy. The Mercy Business Incubation Center houses startups that offer students internships and mentoring. Mercy students also run a chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization, which aims to foster student entrepreneurship and is active on more than 250 college campuses.
Rogers looks forward to the spring when he plans to host the Business Planning Competition as part of a larger Student-Preneur Conference, though it is still uncertain whether the conference will be virtual or in person. Students are excited about these upcoming events. “We’re going to take the feedback from the WCC judges as soon as possible, and hopefully we win the Business Planning Competition,” said Gomez.