Winners of the fourth annual Meredith Social Entrepreneurship Challenge (MSEC), a competition and learning opportunity for students with business ideas, were recently announced. This year’s challenge was taken to a new level when all class activity was moved online mid-semester, but organizer Nathan Woolard said the quick pivot worked well.
“Although it wasn't ideal, and we lost a lot of the technical development that typically comes with the mentorship in this stage, we had tremendous gains in creativity and resiliency,” said Woolard, associate professor of entrepreneurship.
In fact, participants embraced the pandemic as part of the competition. “They had to consider what it would be like to be a business owner navigating the COVID-19 crisis,” Woolard said. “The challenge was a great learning opportunity for participants to evaluate opportunities and threats.”
The virtual nature also allowed for more women entrepreneurs to help facilitate the competition. In past years, the challenge had five judges for the "Shark Tank style" pitch. This year, there were 15 virtual judges, 13 of whom were Meredith alumnae, providing both written and numeric feedback.
Pre-health student Nikki Murdoch, ’20, won for her idea, The Nursery Bulb. The Nursery Bulb is a sleep and health-friendly light source for baby nurseries to improve newborn sleeping patterns, a new mom's quality of life, and public health as a whole. “I love to learn and think about solving problems in creative ways,” said Murdoch.
Second place went to Yvonne Damon, who proposed a mobile app called Talk Some Cents, which provides everyday financial advice, in layman’s terms, to the general public through an app. The goal of this business is to provide low level financial consulting to people that cannot afford a proper financial consultant, but still need help managing their money. Her idea addresses a concern among many millenials about secure financial futures. “Bank of America found that only about 16% of young adults feel optimistic about their financial futures,” said Damon. “These numbers are very worrying.” Damon is a business administration major with a concentration in accounting, hoping to become a certified public accountant upon graduation.
Third place, with a $1,000 prize, went to two business students: Mary Margaret Gill, ’20 and Sydney Hardee, ’20. They came up with a catering business idea called Two Girls and a Tailgate. The idea behind it is to give customers the unique experience of having a completely worry-free tailgating experience. “Two Girls and A Tailgate offers customers the convenience of setting up their tailgate, bringing the food together, and more, so all our customers have to do is show up and enjoy the game,” said Hardee, who has accepted a sales position with The Select Group after graduation.
Woolard thought it was important to keep the MSEC going because it was symbolic of the challenge business owners are facing today. “I have many small business owner friends battling the biggest professional fight of their career right now,” said Woolard. He thought his students could embrace the challenge as a learning opportunity.
“We were surprised to see the creative solutions students came up with to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic,” Woolard said. “For many, there's not a clear solution that would have a positive outcome, but that only increased their creativity. It was a very fun exercise.”
A full list of the semi-finalists in the competition as well as information about the judges can be found here.