Pioneer Weekend 2022

An annual three-day pitch competition hosted by the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership

October 04, 2022

From Sept. 23 to 25, 2022, the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership hosted their annual Pioneer Weekend competition, back in person for this year’s event.

A group of five students huddles at a round table to develop their project idea.

Pioneer Weekend is a pitch-based competition. The goal of Pioneer Weekend is for groups to finish with an effective plan and presentation of their project idea. This project idea can be anything from a nonprofit to a business or even a class! The competition emphasizes not just the importance of an innovative idea, but the importance of advocacy. The top three winning teams receive cash prizes.

Pioneer Weekend is just one of many opportunities offered by the Wilson Center for students to try their hand at entrepreneurial innovation with a brand new team.

Three students are writing down the beginning ideas for their project.

This year, students came together through an initial brainstorming session on the Friday evening kick-off session. This session began after a rousing keynote held by Steve Elkes 83. Not only did Elkes give students insight into what it means to be entrepreneurial, but he also brought concrete ideas and opportunities to the table for students to participate in, including the Elkes Airport Project. Students used lots of adjectives to describe the start of the weekend. Many students noted feeling excited, inspired, and the start of feeling the pressure of having a pitch that grabs the attention of the judges.

Three students meet with event mentor Steve Elkes '83

On Saturday of the competition, students had the opportunity to meet with mentors to discuss various aspects of their pitches, such as market validation, technical feasibility, developing a business plan, and pitching effectively. The mentor team was comprised of four mentors: Steve Elkes ’83, co-founder of Curacity; Barb Baker, director of advertising and community relations at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance and adjunct professor and the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business; Terri Brady ’79, executive director of professional development at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy; and Leigh Kunkel ’09, lecturer in freelance writing at Grinnell College.

A team meets with event mentor Leigh Kunkel '09.

Kerty Levy, Jana Grimes, and Alexander McLean were the judges for Pioneer Weekend this year, each one equally qualified to distinguish outstanding pitches. Levy is the CEO of the Des Moines chapter of startup accelerator Techstars, which is partnered with the College. Grimes is the vice president of human resources at Grinnell College. McLean is the founder and CEO of Justice Defenders as well as a recipient of the 2020 Grinnell Prize and a Heath professor in sociology.

The second place team of five students with their oversized prize check.

The first-place team’s proposal was for a mobile application titled “Spaced,” an app dedicated to ensuring students could work directly with Grinnell residents to store items at an affordable rate. The team was composed of Enzo Pereira da Cunha ’26, David Dai ’23, Trung Le ’25, Vinicius Ono Sant'anna ’24, and Diego Coelho Rodrigues ’25. The second-place team, comprised of members Hong Doan ’24, Elias Lawler ’23, Sneha Lohani ’23, Nameera Muhammad Dawood ’23, and Ganga Prakash ’25, pitched their idea for “Open Town,” a two-credit course on community engagement where Grinnell students worked with faculty and local schools to develop lesson plans to be taught to Grinnell community schoolchildren. In third place was “Demolition;” the team of Evaan Ahmed ’23, Katherine Babb 26, Paata Kaloiani ’25, and Timur Kasimov ’25 envisioned a demolition room facility for Grinnell residents to take unused and recycled items and simply smash them! Other teams included “Pactum” (Istar Abdullahi ’25, Areeha Ilyas ’25, and Agnes Saracouli ’25), “Flamber” (Aryaa Gunavante ’25, Clara Zioli da Igreja ’23, Muhammad Faheem ’24, Priyanka Gupta ’25, and Raj Jhanwar ’25), and “HNC Group” (Deepit Chandgothia ’25, Rashed Alneyadi ’25, Braden Meiners ’24, and Tomoyoshi Sato ’23).

The Wilson Center congratulates all the students who participated in Pioneer Weekend for their hard work and looks forward to next year’s pitches!


We use cookies to enable essential services and functionality on our site, enhance your user experience, provide better service through personalized content, collect data on how visitors interact with our site, and enable advertising services.

To accept the use of cookies and continue on to the site, click "I Agree." For more information about our use of cookies and how to opt out, please refer to our website privacy policy.