Looking for Your Next Venture? It Might Be Right Here at Smith.
- April 18, 2023
Smith’s Draper Competition for Collegiate Women Entrepreneurs welcomes 60 teams from across the country for two days of learning and competition.
Entrepreneurs Dia Davis and Chanté Knox accept the grand prize for DelivHer FemCare from competition founders, Melissa and Tim Draper. (Photo/Jon Crispin)
By Nicole Pellaton
“Imagine running across a brand-new white carpet with a full glass of red wine. Dangerous, right?” That was the start of the winning pitch at the 2023 Draper Competition for an innovative menstrual product. The two students from Georgia State University presenting DelivHer FemCare, who cleverly wore all white to reinforce their message, captured the attention of the five judges and landed the first-place prize of $25,000 and a full scholarship to Draper University. (You can watch the finalist pitches.)
DelivHer FemCare was selected from 60 highly competitive student teams, who came from colleges and universities across the U.S. to pitch their ventures. Ten teams were chosen to compete for top prizes in a lightning round of 90-second pitches.
Product diversity was impressive. Among the 10 finalists were Aer Cosmetics (second place, Drexel University), sustainable mascara; FullFlock (third place, University of Pennsylvania), poultry feed that combats avian flu; ChiChi Foods (honorable mention, Washington University at St. Louis), chickpea “oatmeal”; Unsmudgeable (Babson College), eyeglass lens coating; ScentCare (Johns Hopkins University), a device that retrains a person’s sense of smell; and Shezza (San Diego State University), anti-blister socks. The fan favorite, selected by visitors to the venture booth showcase, was Glorious Farm (Smith College), a sustainable agriculture project in Cameroon.
“Tim and Melissa [Draper] really understand the powerful contributions that women have to make in the entrepreneurial space. We owe them an incredible debt of gratitude for providing this unique opportunity.”—President Kathleen McCartney
The Draper Competition is the brainchild of Melissa Parker Draper ’77 and her husband, Tim, a leader in the global venture capital field, who saw the need to get more women in the entrepreneurship pipeline and empower them to succeed.
Since starting at Smith 10 years ago, the Draper Competition has grown from just a handful of contestants to the #7 entrepreneurship competition in the U.S., as ranked by the Times of Entrepreneurship. Over the years, it has hosted almost 600 teams (all led by women), launched 78 ventures and awarded $1.5 million in cash prizes. It remains the only contest hosted by a liberal arts institution highlighting women entrepreneurs.
During brief remarks before the final pitches, President Kathleen McCartney noted the competition’s importance in launching women entrepreneurs and her pride that Smith is the host. “This competition is important for so many reasons. It has spread by word of mouth. It encourages big thinking here and on campuses beyond Smith.” She ended by thanking the founders, Melissa and Tim Draper. “Tim and Melissa really understand the powerful contributions that women have to make in the entrepreneurial space. We owe them an incredible debt of gratitude for providing this unique opportunity. You have put Smith on the map.”
For Melissa Draper, meeting the contestants has always been the best part of the event. “These are individual journeys, from the start of the idea until they’re there at the judges’ table. I just love meeting the participants. There’s a real difference when you talk to the ones who are living and breathing their enterprise ideas. … You can hear it and feel it, and it’s so exciting.” Tim Draper was “thrilled with the quality of entrepreneurs” this year.
Judges for the 10 finalists were: Melissa and Tim Draper, S. Mona Ghosh Sinha ’88, Abigail Slater ’80 and Dawanna Williams ’90.
Jill Ker Conway Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center staff, who organize the event, responded to the excitement surrounding the competition’s return to an in-person format with special entertainment, including a live concert by indie-pop group MICHELLE and a culinary innovators challenge.
What did the student entrepreneurs have to say? One, whose product targets busy working mothers, said she had felt “invisible” at men-dominated entrepreneurship competitions, but not at this one. “Everyone was so nice,” said another, who appreciated the expertise shared by the judges, the seminars that teach contestants about building a business and the opportunity to make connections. For Davis of the DelivHer FemCare team, the supportive environment was a welcome surprise. “It didn’t even feel like a pitch,” she said.
The winning team with Draper Competition judges (l to r): Dawanna Williams, Chanté Knox, Tim Draper, Dia Davis, Melissa Draper, S. Mona Ghosh Sinha and Abigail Slater. (Photo/Jon Crispin)
Read an interview with Melissa Draper.
April 18, 2023