Pioneer Weekend 2023

Winning teams announced for the annual three-day pitch competition hosted by the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership.

October 05, 2023

Dayana Garcia

The Wilson Center’s annual Pioneer Weekend pitch competition took place from Friday, Sept. 22, to Sunday Sept. 24, and resulted in near record numbers for attendance and participation, surpassed only by the 2020 virtual event. This year, 10 teams presented pitches on Sunday to an impressive panel of judges.

The objective of Pioneer Weekend is to bring together student innovators to develop and pitch a business or nonprofit plan. It encourages hands-on experiences and helps develop skills critical to entrepreneurship; an additional incentive is cash prizes to the top three teams.

Keynote and Team Formation

The weekend began with our keynote speaker, Kathy Clemons-Beasley ’95, global head of talent development at BlackRock and head of human resources for the Atlanta Innovation Hub. She gave a moving speech on her experiences as a humanities major working in the financial sector. Following the keynote, a newly implemented Pitch Speed Dating activity pushed all the students to briefly talk about their ideas to randomized groups of their peers, then some chose to pitch their idea in front of the whole room. The result was the formation of teams of 3–5 people.

Structured Mentoring

Teams of students being mentored on business development during Pioneer Weekend 2023.

Saturday encapsulated the mentor sessions with Clemons-Beasley, Kevin Allen, Robert Gehorsam ‘76, and Bill Menner. Clemons-Beasley’s mentorship specialized in presentation development. Allen, co-founder of E.I. Games and a Wall Street Journal best-selling author, specialized in mentoring on idea development and presentation development. Allen was also teaching a Wilson Center short-course Intro to Entrepreneurship which focused on emotional intelligence and whose students all participated in Pioneer Weekend. Gehorsam, an experienced senior executive, start-up founder, and advisor to early-stage companies in digital media, specialized in mentoring on idea development and business models/strategy. Menner, an experienced economic developer working with existing businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs in Iowa, specialized in mentoring on market research and business models/strategy. Teams were scheduled to meet with two mentors and then optionally allowed to meet with the other mentors as time allowed after the scheduled sessions were done.

“Judging competitions like this is really, really hard.”

A team of students pitches their business idea with a slide featuring their product.

Student teams spent Saturday evening and the next morning preparing their final pitches for judging. Our judging panel consisted of three community members who have made incredibly valuable contributions to Grinnell College and the surrounding community. They were Barb Baker, director of advertising and community relations at Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance; Anne Harris, president of Grinnell College; and Bernadine Douglas, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations. These judges had the impossible decision of choosing the top three winning pitches. After deliberation, the winning teams were presented at 4 p.m. on Sunday, less than 48 hours since Pioneer Weekend first began. These talented teams worked diligently to bring their ideas to life and impressed everyone with their dedication and innovation.

Before the winners were announced, Jeff Blanchard, director of the Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, addressed the competing teams. “The judging of competitions like this is challenging. It’s really, really hard, and it is not perfect, and we know that, and that’s okay, because that was not exactly the point of the weekend. The point of this weekend is not the award ceremony. The point of this weekend was what you just did [the pitch] and the entire process to get there, and it was absolutely amazing. I’ve been blown away by every pitch today. I’m super energized by this weekend — by all of you. Thank you for all of the work and the engagement you had with Pioneer Weekend.”

Jeff Blanchard with microphone

I’ve been blown away by every pitch today. I’m super energized by this weekend — by all of you. Thank you for all of the work and the engagement you had with Pioneer Weekend.

Jeff Blanchard

President Harris added that she was deeply engaged by the pitches and inspired to think about new possible partnerships.

Blanchard followed up by inviting the Pioneer Weekend participants to seek out additional resources at the Wilson Center Catalyst, an idea incubator and fund, whose student co-coordinators were on hand for Q&A.

Meet The Teams

Winning Team Pitches

First place: iMEDiate, an accessible healthcare solution featuring all-hours vending box for over-the-counter medical supplies. Team Grinnovators: Quynh Dao ’25, Khanh Do ’27, Trung Le ’25, Huy Nguyen ’25, and Phuong Tran ’26.

Second place: Dorm Deals, an online, reliable marketplace for students to sell and buy second-hand items. Team Thrifters: Muhammad Khalid ’26, Sauryanshu Khanal ’25, and Devanshu Pandey ’26.

Third place: RecapEd, a software solution that turns class recordings into bite-sized highlights. Team RecapEd: Meghna Adhikari ’24, Shrey Agrawal ’24, Avaash Bhattarai ’26, and Vinicius Ono ’24.

All Other Team Pitches (in alphabetical order)

  • Carbon Cache, software linking consumers to companies, institutions, and governments that are impacting global carbon footprint, gamified with CarbonCash. Team Carbon Cache: Haden Horstman ’26, Alexander Lembke ’26, Cubin Molzen ’26, and Tan Mukherjee ’26.
  • ConnectuAll, a campus event calendar app for community engagement. Team Fun and Creative: Luis Domingues ’26, Patrick Sales Garcia ’25, Beatriz Polo Diz ’27, Gabriela Rożnawka ’26, and Thainá Theordoro ’27.
  • Graduation Fairies, curating community resources for visiting families at graduation time. Team Graduation Fairies: Betel Aga ’27, Ananya Manchanda ’26, and Linda Pham ’24.
  • Grinnell Student Academic Forum, publishing student scholarly work in a journal format while upholding Grinnell’s standard for excellence. Team Academic Alliance: Chris Cecchi ’26, John Miller ’26, Bryant Nguyen ’25, Alexander Nistor ’26, and Sophia Ramalli ’27.
  • InterGen, an initiative to facilitate intergenerational community activities. Team InterGen: Greyson Blanchard ’26, Alex Carlon ’25, Paata Kaloiani ’25, and Dennis Mboya ’27.
  • SilverFork, offering chef-led cooking classes that double to combat hunger in the community with good quality meals. Team SilverFork: Katie Babb ’26, Elijah Gallagher ’26, and Candice Lu ’26.
  • VRZheimer, a virtual-reality, memory-skills game for dementia patients who have little access to more expensive treatments and therapy. Team VRZheimer: Mohammad Chowdhury ’27, Gun Woo Kim ’27, Slok Rajbhandari ’27, and Adarsh Sharma ’27.


This year’s Pioneer Weekend is made possible by a generous gift from Maijid Moujaled ’14 and Ham Serunjogi ’16, with additional funding from the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, and a lot of work from the Wilson Center’s student employees.

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