By Keely Savoie
Three groups from Mount Holyoke College’s new minor in entrepreneurship, organizations and society were awarded cash prizes for their business projects from Valley Venture’s inaugural Collegiate Accelerator Program this summer.
The Travel Unicorn, a social media and information platform for LGBTQ+ travelers to share advice and experience and developed by Carley Forcade ’17, was awarded both a $6,000 prize and an additional $5,000 “Grit Award” for outstanding work and commitment; Zirui, the brainchild of Regina Ye ’18, a travel solution for beauty- and personal-care products was awarded $2,000; and Mt. Mitho, a company that will make and market frozen momos, the popular Nepali street food, for the U.S. consumer, was awarded $1,350. Mt. Mitho’s founders are Swastika Khunjeli and Kritika Pradhan, both ’18.
Forcade, who had come up with the idea for Travel Unicorn almost as a lark when planning a trip to Spain with her girlfriend last spring, was delighted — and slightly shocked.
“Even if I won nothing I would have found the program incredibly valuable,” Forcade said. “But having that money going forward means that I will be able to take it to the next level.”
Participants in the two-month course interviewed dozens of times with investors, potential clients and business leaders. They performed exhaustive market research, refined their business plans, networked with key players in their fields and tweaked their pitches and plans to entice investors and consumers alike.
At the end of the program, each group pitched their finished products to potential investors who could choose which groups to back. Their final progress and projects were judged by accredited investors.
Celine Mudahakana ’17, who founded “Weaving for Peace,” a social entrepreneurship program in Rwanda, was the keynote speaker at the event announcing the winners.
Rick Feldman, entrepreneurship coordinator and lecturer for the EOS concentration at Mount Holyoke, was delighted with the wins.
“I’m so happy for Carly, Regina, Swas and Kritika!” he said. “These fantastic outcomes are a result of their talents, intelligence and dedicated hard work,” Feldman said.
“They’ve modeled the importance of combining persistence and perseverance with talent and intelligence,” Feldman said. “I feel very fortunate to be working with them, and with all our current and former entrepreneurship students. The entrepreneurship process and all the learning and discovery involved is truly exciting, and having these successes is the icing on the cake.”
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