By Nick Erickson
Much of her life, George Washington University senior business student Mariam Zara could never understand why the procedure it took for women to obtain a pregnancy test was mostly public. She couldn’t imagine the level of anxiety involved in going to a pharmacy and purchasing a testing kit while looking across at a stranger—or someone they knew—working the register.
Ms. Zara thought there had to be another way, especially for people who have historically faced discrimination from more culturally rigid areas. Last spring, she enrolled in a women’s entrepreneurial leadership course, and thanks to the opportunity within that class, Ms. Zara changed the question from why to how.
She teamed with current School of Business senior Isabel Meizoso Quetglas and recent graduate Emma Danziger, B.B.A. ’21, both like-minded individuals passionate about advancing women’s health rights, to create a business model for an at-home pregnancy test that would prioritize privacy.
“No one has really challenged the product or the product design of pregnancy testing,” Ms. Zara said. “We saw an opportunity here and developed it forward.”
The trio conceptualized an individually packaged wipe idea and gave an elevator pitch to judges at the Mini Pitch George Competition, which was held exclusively to spring semester students enrolled in an entrepreneurial course. It is the smaller version of the annual Pitch George Competition, which allows young entrepreneurs from any GW school to present their business ideas, get valuable feedback on the viability of their business concepts and win startup capital. The registration deadline for this fall’s three-weekend annual Pitch George Competition is 11:59 p.m. (EDT) Oct. 23. Five first-tier teams will receive $1,000, five second-tier teams get $500 and third-tier groups are awarded $150. The School of Business’ (GWSB) Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence (CFEE) puts on the competition.
The product concept, which they call W!PE, would have a QR code on the front of the flushable wipe that women could scan and connect directly to a mobile device. The chips inside the QR code would react with urine and then send results straight to the woman without any public knowledge. They also factored in ways to make the wipes environmentally friendly such as making the chips out of zinc, which Ms. Zara said is one of the few minerals that is both affordable and biodegradable.
They found the feedback from the competition invaluable, tweaking different parts of the product based on the suggestions from judges. W!PE earned a first-tier prize at Mini Pitch George. That placement also had a $300 reward and fast-tracked them to the New Venture Competition (NVC). The three believe their partnership was a key to their success, and they’ve even represented GW at other universities’ pitch competitions.
“People just liked the idea of three women creating something like this,” Ms. Zara said. “We’re all from different backgrounds and different walks of life, so it’s really cool.”
Similarly innovative GW students have found the elevator pitch competition to be a useful resource. Senior GWSB students Roslyn Davis, Sophia Hardesty-Meteyer and Zestiny Smith pooled their passions to create a concept for an odor-resistant, hyperpigmentation-relieving deodorant targeted at Black and Brown women.
“(As Black and Brown women), we face different skin pigmentation,” Ms. Smith said. “A lot of women are self-conscious of that, so we wanted to create a product that relieved that.”
They created the concept for the natural deodorant they called MELA, which they got preliminary feedback for at the fall 2020 Pitch George Competition and brought back with a more concrete vision during the spring’s Mini Pitch George. It paid off. Last fall, they were a third-tier team in the fall’s annual Pitch George Competition and won $150. In the spring, they moved up to second tier and brought home $200.
Ms. Hardesty-Meteyer, who especially appreciated when there was a diverse judging panel that could provide direct feedback as potential customers, said both Pitch George Competition experiences were unlike anything she had done at GW before. She said there was real value in having such real-life exposure to world of entrepreneurship and would encourage other forward-thinking, creative students to jump at the opportunity.
“I feel like so much of entrepreneurship is a chance, and that’s exactly what Pitch George is,” Ms. Hardesty-Meteyer said. “It’s an educated chance. You’re going in and giving it your best and going out on a limb, and it can be perceived really well. That’s how we ended up being able to talk MELA so far.”
Over the years, finalists have gone on to continue their entrepreneurial journeys, with a track record of current businesses that started as an idea through Pitch George. George Solomon, CFEE director, and Jess Vodilka, Pitch George event manager, have taken pride seeing students such as the W!PE and MELA concept creators turn an aspiration into action.
“Our goal is to provide an opportunity for students to jump-start, plan, test, and execute their business ideas in a safe, supported environment,” Ms. Vodilka said. “Pitch George serves as the essential steppingstone into our entrepreneurial community."
This fall’s annual Pitch George Competition, which will run three consecutive Saturdays on Nov. 6, Nov. 13 and Nov. 20, will be a hybrid format with the first two rounds being virtual and the final in-person. The average scores from the first and second rounds will determine which teams continue to the third round. There will be 15 finalists, and all 15 groups competing in the third round are guaranteed corresponding prize money.