GSW hosts first-ever Hurricane Pitch competition for student entrepreneurs

Published 4:30 pm Monday, May 8, 2023

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From Staff Reports

AMERICUS – Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW) hosted its first-ever Hurricane Pitch competition on Wednesday, April 19 for entrepreneurial students with dreams of starting their own small businesses in the communities they call home.

Kameisha Smith of Albany, GA., a sophomore online pre-marketing major with an entrepreneurship certificate, took home the grand prize of $7,500, which she will use to get her small business off the ground. The Vessel, a comprehensive “one-stop shop” for marketing, will guide clients from start to finish with custom branding, web design, photography and other services to help create a cohesive brand for their business.

“Words cannot express my gratitude to the University, the GSW Foundation, and President Neal Weaver for making opportunities possible for us students to prepare for our dreams,” said Smith, who is currently working full-time while attending school and raising a son, with another on the way this year. “Of the overwhelming support from my village at home, work and school, I am proud to begin my journey as an entrepreneur to inspire those around me and make a better place for the future business leaders to come.”

Winning the People’s Choice Award was Jacquelyn Levay of Tampa, Fla., a senior management major with an entrepreneurship certificate, who received $3,000 towards starting her own small business of an online retail store for female activewear. Levay, a GSW women’s basketball player, shared that her vision for starting For Women By Women was from personal experience of not being able to find a variety of cute female activewear in stores.

Other finalists who presented at the competition included: Jacie Johns, a senior marketing major from Hahira, presenting Luxury Lighting – an online and brick-and-mortar light fixture and accessory company; Nathan Gibson (’22), history major with marketing minor from Warm Springs, and Palmer Braunstein, junior management major with certifications in entrepreneurship, media studies, leadership, and pop culture from Macon, presenting Good Brothers – a social media and public relations firm for small businesses; Kaitlyn Jackson, a freshman pre-marketing major from Leesburg, and Edith Acevedo, a freshman pre-management major from Leesburg, presenting Kait’s Café – a coffee and baked goods establishment with a portion of proceeds going toward homeless shelters in Leesburg and Albany.

“I really enjoyed helping the students turn their ideas into concepts, then business plans and pitches,” said Suzanne Conner, associate professor of marketing and organizer of the competition. “Each of the finalists is a winner in my mind. Not only did they take their ideas and create a business plan and pitch, they dedicated their time and energy to take steps towards fulfilling their entrepreneurial dreams. I was there to guide them, but they did all the work. I am so proud of each one of them and look forward to what they will accomplish.”

These five pitches were selected from the 36 students and teams across all disciplines who submitted business plans back in March. Conner has worked with these students since October, teaching them how to create business plans. A group of preliminary judges narrowed down the submissions to the five finalists who then wrote, edited and polished their pitches over a series of one-on-one meetings with Conner.

Judges for the evening were three small business owners: Elena Carné, owner of T31 Apparel in Americus; Cody Currington (‘20), co-owner of The Dime Store and Coffee Club Southern Kitchen in Buena Vista; and Tawanda Ellis (’03), founder and CEO of MirrorMOM 360 and owner of DNA 360 Consulting in Perry.

The event was funded by the GSW Foundation through a grant, the Educational Leadership Fund, applied for by Conner as part of her Pope Professorship to foster entrepreneurship in women and minorities.