Top student business-passion pitch: horses for therapy

November 7, 2017

Psychology major Anna Willenbaker ’18’s idea for a therapeutic horse-riding business won the third annual Pitch Your Passion competition for business-minded students at Saint Michael’s College on Sunday, November 5, earning her a $1,000 prize and an invitation to a larger regional competition involving several area colleges. She has a minor in business.

The student-run Saint Michael’s College Business Society and the Department of Business Administration and Accounting hosted Sunday’s event — a multi-round pitch competition with prizes of $1,000, $350 and $150. The competition involves pitching a concept for a service, product, or idea. The winning pitch also gains the opportunity to pitch that competitor’s idea at the 2018 LaunchVT Collegiate, a regionally sponsored competition by the participating Colleges and Universities and Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce.

In the first round, held in late October, a panel of 10 student judges hear pitches for 18 ideas from their peers, and the top 10 pitches proceeded to the finals, where each contestant (or in one case a team of two) delivered a five-minute pitch with a three-minute question-and-answer period to a distinguished panel of judges on Sunday in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall.

This year’s panel consisted of five alumni with three current or recently retired employees: Erik Lightbody ’08, assistant director of technical services; Matt Seklecki ’11 M’17, senior associate director of admission; John Sheehey ’70, registrar, retired with 40+ years of service; Nina Hurley ’11 Senior Accountant at Beecher Carlson and Board member, Humane Society of Chittenden County; and Chris Eldridge, ‘2012, entrepreneur with passion for innovative startups, currently residing in New Hampshire

Here are this year’s winners:

1st Place: Anna Willenbaker ’18, psychology major and business minor from Addison, VT, pitched a non-profit concept, Better Days Therapeutic Riding Program, an integrated program that will help those experiencing psychological (and even physical) suffering in our community.

As she explained it to the judges, not only will the program expose individuals to amazing animals, but it will also include programs and camps to teach individuals (including youth) about work around the farm to allow the connection between the individual and their environment to be re-forged.

“It was an incredible experience to compete in PYP 2017 today!” Willenbaker said. “I was very honored to be a part of such a fantastic group of competitors with many exciting ideas. I want to give a huge thank you to the judges and SMC community for selecting me as the winner and believing in my passion for Better Days. Through combining my passion for horses and love of helping people I plan to create a program that will be an asset to my community by combating the existing mental health crisis.”

“Being a competitor today made me even closer to my dream of getting Better Days established. It gave me the opportunity to thoroughly gather my thoughts and pitch my plan along with sharing my idea for the first time to the public, and for this I am extremely grateful,” she said.

2nd Place: Caroline Sumner’20, Needham, MA, business major and peace and justice minor, pitched her handmade yarn hats, Knitty Gritty Hat Company.  Caroline makes handmade, customizable winter hats featuring a thick brim to keep a wearer’s head warmer throughout the winter. With an eye towards social justice, Caroline told the judges, she hopes to employ local refugees at an hourly wage above minimum, to knit the unique caps.  “I have never participated in a competition like Pitch Your Passion before and I am so glad I did!” she said. “It was a great opportunity to practice public speaking and put myself and my idea out there.”

3rd Place: Ryan Londregan ’19, New London, CT, majoring in business administration, pitched Rootwood Lacrosse, an innovative lacrosse shaft designed and built with performance, aesthetics, and the planet in mind, he told the judges, adding that Rootwood shafts are durable and flexible while simultaneously weighing 40 percent less than most solid wood shafts available today.  “This is my second year participating in the Pitch your Passion business competition,” Londregan said. “This competition provided me with the opportunity to work with St. Mike’s professors from the business department to further develop my business plan and present it as competition-grade material.”  In 2017, Ryan was a member of the 1st place Vermont Chill Company.

Following announcement of winners, judges offered thoughtful advice and constructive feedback to each of the students to further inspire their creativity and encourage their passions.  Supporting the students during the competition were business faculty Professors Joanne Scott, Steve Doyon, Robert Letovsky and Karen Popovich. “The day would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the SMC Business Society co-presidents, Branden Young ’19 and Shannon Kelley ’19,” said Popovich. “Their ability to organize many moving parts resulted in a very successful competition!”

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