Above: Professor Lancie Affonso ’96 with students Maxwell Vittorio, Nicholas Bove and Bo Dwyer of Sail Shade. 

Pitch competitions can be nerve-racking, especially when you’re pitching to an audience of over 200 people with judges watching intently and cash prizes on the line. That’s part of why it’s so impressive that five student teams from the College of Charleston made it to the semi-final round of SC Innovates 2022 – a statewide pitch competition. Out of 76 entries, five CofC teams were among the final 15. And in the end, Cougar teams placed fourth and fifth, with another team earning an Honorable Mention.

This annual event, which took place on Nov. 16, 2022, tasks students across the Palmetto State with developing solutions to some of the world’s most challenging problems. It draws entries from up to 16 universities, including undergraduate and graduate schools. This year, over $12,000 in cash prizes were at stake, along with statewide bragging rights.

According to David Wyman, who directs the College’s Center for Entrepreneurship, this is “a big deal. Having five teams place in the top 15 with 14 other universities competing is a tribute to the exceptional entrepreneurial zeal of our students.” He added that all of the CofC teams were interdisciplinary with each one including at least one major from outside the School of Business.

Bo Dwyer, Nicholas Bove and Maxwell Vittorio, all first-year Honors College students, won fourth place and $1,000 in the contest, with their pitch of Sail Shade. Their concept utilizes repurposed sails that are ordinarily thrown away by the owners of racing sailboats to create umbrellas. The resulting product, says Dwyer, would be stronger and last longer than conventional umbrellas because it would be made from sail material containing Kevlar and carbon fibers. In their pitch, the students emphasized that keeping these sails out of landfills helps to address United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 12 – responsible consumption and production.

And in fifth place, also winning $1,000, first-year student Grace Baker teamed up with her peer mentor, junior computer science major and Honors College student Channing Smith, to pitch FORge Change. This proposal is an app that pairs interested parties with volunteer opportunities in their community. The app aligns the individual’s interests and talents with community needs. It also has a social function that enables users to communicate with each other. According to Baker, FORge Change would help to address three of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals: good health and well-being, sustainable cities and communities, and partnerships that support all the other goals.

First-year students Cassie Cleary, Catherine Linden and Caroline Twite, all enrolled in the Honors College, won an Honorable Mention and $500 for their pitch of Baby Beep, a device with an alarm system that prevents an infant from being left unattended in a car seat.

In addition, two other CofC teams that made it to the final 15, including For the Record (Lily Kirkland, Katie Horton and Will Dalton), and Clarifill (Revs Revels, Katerina Gibson and David Byrd), each won $100.

The fact that no other university in the competition had more than one team place in the top five is a testament to the culture of entrepreneurship at CofC, says Lancie Affonso ’96, who teaches entrepreneurship at the College.

“These are talented, intelligent students, to be sure,” Affonso explained, “but they also benefitted tremendously from the mentorship they received from their peer mentors in the Honors Entrepreneurship Living Learning Community, including Isaiah Kahn, Troy Brennan, Blake Mitrick, Connor Cozad, Terence Carey, Jody Bell and Maya Pai. I give the peer mentors a lot of credit for the success our students experienced at SC Innovates.”