The Student Entrepreneur Showcase winners were introduced by Dean Shanda Traiser (middle). From L-R, the honorees included Andrew Zydna (Audience Choice), Whitney Jones (third place), Dean Traiser, Nasaussja Webster (second place) and James Panzone (first place).

The 2017 Columbia College Student Entrepreneur Showcase Pitch Competition was more than just an opportunity for James Panzone to win $5,000 to help his burgeoning business, Fertility-Pak, grow. It was an opportunity to tell his story of great excitement at the possibility of having a child with his wife, Brittney, turn to the depths of despair that they have experienced realizing their dream had been shattered by several miscarriages.

Through these painful experiences, Panzone, who calls Orlando, Florida, home and attends the Columbia College-Patrick Air Force Base location, was able to come up with the Fertility-Pak concept, which aids couples in the process of conceiving a child. With thoughtful, personal planning and the clear, concise answers Panzone provided to the panel of four judges, he was able to clinch to top prize at competition, which took place April 11.

The pitch competition was one of the Columbia College School of Business Administration’s series of events through the Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship focused on helping young entrepreneurs establish and grow their businesses. Top-quality mentors from around the country helped students refine their concepts and guide them through the process of putting together a 10- minute pitch and then handling a series of rapid-fire questions from the judges.

“We witnessed several of our students from both the main campus and from our Nationwide locations presenting their outstanding ideas” Dr. Shanda Traiser, dean of the School of Business Administration said. “Judging from the talent that was on display, I can truly say the future of entrepreneurship and the Columbia College School of Business Administration is a bright one.”

The competition was fierce, as 10 finalists vied for a piece of the $10,000 prize pool designed to help them grow their businesses. They came from all over the country in search of one of the top three spots or the Audience Choice Award.

Taking second place was Nasaussja Webster, a senior from the college’s Ft. Sill location in Oklahoma. She took home $3,000 for her pitch about a series of novels she is putting together entitled You Are Altogether Beautiful. The books focus on different situations young women face every day, including puberty, sexual purity and incest. Webster, who will study creative writing abroad this summer in England at Oxford University, said that the pitch competition was an eye-opener for her to broaden the focus of her business.

“I learned so much (through the pitch competition). At first I just wanted to be an author and write books,” Webster said. “But through the pitch competition and my mentors, I found so many avenues and realized I wanted to brand what I was doing. They helped me develop the attitude of an entrepreneur instead of just being an author. I had really good mentors, and they taught me about marketing and business and guided me in the direction of thinking like an entrepreneur.”

Whitney Jones from the St. Louis location took home third place and $1,000 for her pitch of a company called Liv & Kiss, which features clothing designed for women sizes 12-36. This was not Jones’ first foray into the winner’s circle at a pitch competition, as she took home the top prize in the college’s pitch competition held in St. Louis last fall. Main campus student Andrew Zynda, who captured the Audience Choice Award for his pitch on a SnapChat social media enterprise called Filterrific Design, rounded out the prize winners.

The following evening, more than 100 members of the Columbia business community gathered to recognize the finalists and their mentors at the Blue Note in downtown Columbia. Each student was honored for their efforts and the top prize winners were presented with a special trophy, noting their accomplishments.

The week concluded with the Women in Entrepreneurship luncheon. The event featured five prominent female entrepreneurs, including Anne Churchill ’08, Kat Cunningham, Jessica Yankee, Karen Taylor and Chrystal Sadler, talking about how their businesses began and the struggles and triumphs they experience every day in making their businesses grow. The attendees packed Dorsey Gym and posed outstanding questions for the panelists, who offered valuable tips on all things surrounding entrepreneurship.

“The School of Business Administration has become a home for talented students with an entrepreneurial spirit around the country,” noted Dr. David Starrett, the college’s provost and vice president for Academic and Student Affairs. “As we move forward, our students can expect exceptional instruction in majors ranging from accounting, finance, management, marketing, international business and, of course, entrepreneurship.”