By Tatyana Hopkins
As a professional business development consultant, Michael Tadesse, a current graduate student pursuing a global master’s of business administration at the George Washington University School of Business, worked to help entrepreneurs cultivate partnerships, discover new markets and explore other strategic opportunities.
Now, inspired by his own experience, having been diagnosed with stage 4 kidney failure four years ago, Mr. Tadesse hopes to bring his own idea to life—a marketplace app that connects chronically ill patients to meal kits based on their diagnosis’ dietary restrictions.
“The doctors told me that I needed to eat according to a set of dietary restrictions, but they never gave me any guidance,” he said. “So, I went online and ordered different types of meal plans but found my health not doing well because these kits weren’t specific to my dietary restrictions.”
As one of five top tier teams in this year’s Pitch George competition, Mr. Tadesse and his pitch partner Vinuri Dissanayake, who is also pursuing a global master’s of business administration, are on a path to be connected with the resources and advice to launch their app, Happy Plate.
Organized by the GW Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence, each fall semester the “elevator pitch” competition allows GW entrepreneurs from any school to present their business ideas, get valuable feedback on the viability of their business concepts and win startup capital.
Additionally, the three-week contest offers networking opportunities with entrepreneurs from the greater Washington, D.C., area as well as hands-on preparation for the GW New Venture Competition (NVC).
(Applications are now open for the 2021 NVC. To apply, student should submit a written application as well as a two-minute video. Submissions are due by 1 p.m. EST on Feb. 3, 2021. )
This year, more than 40 teams participated in the 14th annual event, which took place virtually.
The top 15 teams were awarded prize money totaling more than $8,000, and the top five teams were also fast-tracked to the 2021 NVC to compete for a share or more than $500,000 in cash and prizes to launch their startups.
Through the Pitch George Competition, Mr. Tadesse said his team was able to discover some of the needs and frustrations of their potential customers.
“Because I’m going through my own health issues myself, I relate to my users,” he said. “But I really spent a lot of time on customer discovery and taking out my own bias.”
Talking to Happy Plate’s potential end-users, Mr. Tadesse said the startup will now consider offering the service in different languages as well as adding a social element to the app so users who may feel isolated by their health conditions can develop a community of support on the app.
In addition to Happy Plate, the other Pitch George winners headed to NVC in the spring include:
- ArmOn, a new venture, led by Vibhu Pillai, a student currently pursuing a master's in business administration, and his business partner, Vipul Saini, has designed a wearable hand sanitizer dispensing device that will allow for easy hand cleansing whenever and wherever the need arises.
- Charity Donation, a social venture run by Terry Bitar, who is pursuing a global master’s of business administration, is a non-profit that works on poverty eradication projects. Started in Lebanon in 2014, the organization sells organic homemade chips, flavored with a savory Middle Eastern za’atar herb and spice blend, to help elderly women sustain a basic income.
- Terrae Packaging, a social venture founded by Simone Vaillancourt, a sophomore studying business administration, is a design firm that creates fully-customized, sustainably-sourced beauty packaging and helps beauty companies develop a cohesive and sustainable brand recognition strategy.
- Teaching Harmony Expanding Minds ((TH)EM), run by J. Robinson, M.T.A. ’20, is a diversity and inclusion learning management system.
Ms. Bitar, said although her social venture, Charity Donation, was highly successful in Lebanon—earning about $50,000 in revenue per month selling the organization’s homemade chips at various pop-up locations to support its 40 elderly bakers— the country’s economic collapse had a severe impact on the business.
Charity Donation began as a personal initiative for Ms. Bitar in 2014 to provide Syrian refugees in Lebanon with personal items, but eventually grew into a social venture to provide jobs to impoverished communities in Lebanon. Its projects were mainly launched and sustained through social media campaigns.
Now, hoping to launch the business in the United States to continue supporting the team in Lebanon, Ms. Bitar said she hopes to refine the organization’s business model through the mentorship provided through the upcoming NVC.
“I'm looking for guidance, and I'm looking to answer the questions that will help my business stick on firm ground so I can watch it grow from there,” she said.