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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Research & Inquiry December 16, 2016

First-Year Smithies Take Top Awards in 2016 Elevator Pitch Contest

Monica Dean (left), director of the Jill Ker Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, and Zoleka Mosiah, who won the top prize at this year's Elevator Pitch Contest.
Monica Dean (left), director of the Jill Ker Conway Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center, and Zoleka Mosiah, who won the top prize at this year's Elevator Pitch Contest.

Two Smith first-year students won top honors in the annual Elevator Pitch Contest hosted December 5 by the Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center.

Zoleka Mosiah ’20, first-place winner, and Isabelle Hodge ’20, first runner-up, successfully pitched ideas in 90 seconds for allergy-free earrings and an app that monitors spending, before a room full of fellow students, entrepreneurs and a panel of judges. Mosiah will go on to represent Smith at a regional entrepreneurship competition in the spring.

The two Smith students beat out nine other contestants in this year’s Elevator Pitch Contest. No props or written materials—save one index card—were allowed, and participants were judged as much for the quality of their presentations as for the viability of their ideas.

Mosiah—who is planning a double major in engineering and computer science—pitched an idea for a “Budget Better” app that monitors and notifies users about their spending. She and a project partner plan to offer the app for free with in-app advertising producing revenue to support the venture.

Hodge—who is considering a major in biological sciences—pitched “She’s a Belle Chandeliers,” a new product combining the decorative aspect of hanging earrings with the benefits of an allergy-free stud earring backer.

Here’s what the two Smithies had to say about taking part in the elevator pitch.

What inspired your winning ideas?

Mosiah: “A friend of mine, Sithokozile Parirenyatwa, came to me with the idea a few months ago. We’re both South African students and couldn’t find a similar service at home. I have an interest in mobile apps, so I asked to join her, and we’ve been working on it together ever since.”

Hodge: “My mom has a metal allergy but enjoys wearing earrings. There are allergen-free options, but they tend to be very expensive, which means she has only one pair she can comfortably wear. “She’s a Belle Chandeliers” gives my mom more style options without risking a reaction. I’ve been working on developing this product for a while and the Conway Center events have been very useful in helping me think about my business.”

What was it like having to present an idea in 90 seconds?

Hodge: “Making a 90-second pitch forces you to really narrow down your idea and focus on the aspects that are really important to get across to your audience. When you develop a business idea, it’s easy to get carried away in all of the cool things you want to do with it, so picking and choosing what to tell people about is difficult.”

Mosiah: “Yes, it really takes preparation to present in 90 seconds. I could feel towards the end of my pitch that I didn’t have the flow that I had in the beginning, and I hadn’t chosen a succinct set of words to get my ideas across. I also don’t usually speak quickly, but I had quite a few points to cover so I had to try my best to speak relatively quickly, while still speaking clearly.”

Do you plan on changing your pitch before the regional competition?

Mosiah: “I most definitely plan on altering my pitch. I had actually forgotten about the pitch competition until a friend reminded me of it just 20 minutes before the start. I quickly created a pitch on a page torn out of my notebook and did not even have a chance to say it out loud or time it before the competition. I also had to make up a name for the product on the spot. It definitely needs some tweaking.”

What is the biggest lesson you’ll take away from this experience?

Mosiah: “I learned that I need to believe in myself more. I felt that my pitch was good but not great. As soon as it was over, I was criticizing my pitch—right up until they called my name. I learned that I need to just give myself a thumbs up for once.”

Hodge: “Practicing my pitch in this competition was the perfect way to get experience talking about my idea and receiving feedback on it. I learned that when you have an opportunity to talk about something you are interested in and care about, there is no reason not to try!”