W&L Hosts Successful Virtual Entrepreneurship Summit This year, 222 people tuned in to watch and participate in the annual summit.
The 9th annual Entrepreneurship Summit at Washington and Lee University, held Oct. 2-3, featured many of the highlights it usually does, including the student and alumni pitch competitions and panels with alumni speakers from various industries. The one significant difference this year was that the summit was held virtually, and while that made things a bit more challenging, organizers were able to pull off a successful event.
The summit began in 2012 with a program attended by 32 alumni and 48 students. This year, 222 attendees and participants attended. While organizing Zoom presentations of that magnitude is never easy, there were positive components to the summit being offered online. Thanks in part to the summit’s virtual nature, alumni from across the world were able to sign-up—including registrants from Egypt, Japan, Singapore, British Columbia and the United Kingdom.
The first day of the event consisted of two sessions, “COVID POP: Perseverance, Opportunities and Pivots” and “The Next Frontier and the Disruptors Blazing the Trail Ahead.” Both sessions consisted of alumni entrepreneurs as panelists.
Carol Dannelly O’Kelley ’91 is a member of the Connolly Center’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board (EAB) and the Williams School board of advisors. To her recollection, she has attended all but one Entrepreneurship Summit at W&L since the event’s inception. Now a parent of a student, Cate O’Kelley ’22, she was happy to share this year’s event with her daughter. At W&L, Cate O’Kelley majors in business administration and art history.
“My daughter and I texted comparing notes on who we voted for on the student pitches, and we didn’t vote for the same people,” Dannelly O’Kelley said. “At one point, Cate dialed into the summit from W&L’s sculpture studio and I smiled, thinking that watching an Entrepreneurship Summit from the sculpture studio is the new penultimate image of the liberal arts education.”
In addition to the summit reaching an entire audience in the comfort of their homes, it also added valuable real-world insight for students.
“The success of the Entrepreneurship Summit’s online event demonstrates the real-world application of the skills W&L’s entrepreneurship students are learning in the program,” said Dannelly O’Kelley. “They quickly pivoted the program, and not just shifting the typical in-person schedule to Zoom, but adapted the program to online, ensuring a great audience experience.”
On Saturday, the annual student pitch and alumni pitch competitors presented via Zoom.
“Given the uncertainty of hosting the summit in a completely new format, I was really pleased with how it turned out,” said Marshall Jones ’22, student organizer of the student competition. “Since it was virtual, our contestants created video pitches rather than presenting on campus as we have done in the past. I want to applaud the students who pitched for the amount of time and effort they spent perfecting their concepts.”
At the student pitch competition, three student entrepreneurs took home prizes. Caroline Grace ’21 won third place and $250 for her concept, Bubbl, which is a wholesale and direct-to-consumer single-serve coffee creamer company. Grace’s product is a plastic-free, plant-based creamer bubble that dissolves into your coffee. Jamal Magoti ’23 won $500 for his concept, Vijana wa Kesho Transportation. Vijana wa Kesho is based in Mwanza, Tanzania; the name translates to “Youth of Tomorrow.” Magoti buys motorcycles and signs a contract with a licensed driver who pays for the bike in monthly installments over a year.
Taking home the first-place prize of $1,000 was Harry Barringer ’23, who won for his concept, Full Force General Services. This past summer, Barringer assembled a team of local college students with diverse work experiences who were game for anything — and thus, Full Force was born. The students did lots of garage and attic clean-outs, landscaping and general maintenance for clients.
“Full Force’s team was eloquent, polite, hardworking, and their customers commended them for it,” said Jones. “Word of mouth was their biggest source of growth. The team had 14 college students and worked 171 jobs for 59 families across 10 towns. Harry built a company he can be incredibly proud of.”
During the alumni pitch session, eight teams delivered their virtual pitches.
“We are glad each of the teams were rewarded for their considerable preparation by a group of students and alumni eager to pose them thoughtful questions and engage them in meaningful conversations,” said George Folline ’21, student organizer of the alumni pitch session. “Additionally, the two breakout sessions offered a great space for further discussion and a more personal connection between attendees.”
Jeff Shay, Rupert H. Johnson Jr. Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at Washington and Lee University and director of the Connolly Center for Entrepreneurship, works with the alumni EAB and the Connolly Entrepreneurship Society (CES) to develop the program. Shay has coordinated the event since its inception, and he played a critical role in organizing this year’s unique summit.
“We are very pleased with the first virtual summit and have received very positive feedback from students and alumni,” Shay said. “Though we prefer our in-person format, the virtual summit was still able to continue to inspire W&L’s thriving entrepreneurial community. All in all, it was another great event!”