College Increases Focus on Enterprise, Business
Issue   |   Wed, 02/29/2012 - 01:43

In the past, the College has not had a reputation for expertise in business. Sophomore and AAS (Association of Amherst Students) Senator Jacob Ong hopes to change that.

“Amherst College doesn’t have a tradition of having an enterprise competition, because in the earlier years they believed that maybe enterprise [or]business, didn’t really fit in line with the liberal arts education. [It was] something you’d do after you graduated, not during your time here,” Ong said.

Last year Ong began his mission to change that, organizing the first Amherst Innovation Pitch Competition. The competition is part of a broader initiative, the AAS Enterprise Program, to test whether there is a demand for enterprise on campus.
After the positive response, the Enterprise Program has gained the attention of administrators who hope to incorporate more enterprise and business opportunities into the Amherst experience.

One way in which these opportunities are being incorporated on campus is the College’s recent establishment as a Grinspoon school. The Grinspoon Foundation is a Jewish foundation which gives money to promote enterprise on campus.
“It’s just a small foundation — the money’s not a lot, but the point is, as a part of the foundation, we will appoint a faculty member to lead the initiative [and increase enterprise opportunities on campus],” Ong said.

Now going into its second year, with the support of the college administration, the Amherst Innovation Pitch Competition is primed to become a major event on campus. The event is designed to equip students with the platform and support required to implement their creative ideas on a large scale. Students are invited to pitch ideas of innovations for business, entertainment or nonprofit entrepreneurship to a panel of judges who have experience in those fields. Competing students and teens have two minutes to make pitches and three minutes to answer questions from the judges. Judges evaluate entries on their potential for growth in value or influence, novelty and feasibility.

First, second and third place winners each win a cash prize (the exact amount has not yet been determined). The money will come from alumni donations, Grinspoon and possibly from the Center for Community Engagement.

The inaugural Amherst Innovation Pitch Competition, held last year, attracted 37 entries, with 11 finalists and four wild-card entries getting the opportunity to present in front of the judges. The top three winners received mentorship from alumni entrepreneurs and prized of $500, $350 and $250. Last years top prize winners were twins Carlissa and Laken King ’11 for their proposal “Elle and Cee,” an affordable girl doll collection that would reflect a diverse array of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.

This year, Ong expects the event will be even bigger.

“The prizes will be higher [than last year], [which will allow it to] serve both purposes [as an award and as money towards implementing their idea],” Ong said.

Furthermore, because the College is now a Grinspoon School, the winner will go on to a national pitch challenge.

Ong especially encourages students to start coming up with ideas for the upcoming competition.

“It’s not a competition about the implementation, it’s a competition on ideas. The best ideas win the prize money. So there’s no need for much preparation, as long as you’re thinking of a good idea,” Ong said.

Students can submit ideas online, which the judges will then review and eventually will choose seven to go onto the final round.
This year’s Amherst Innovation Pitch Competition will be held on April 21. Participants may submit their ideas in early April.