Website Concepts Win MHC Pitch Contest

Two business plans for e-commerce websites, one that uses video chatting to help people learn languages and the other an online market, have won Mount Holyoke’s 2013 elevator pitch contest.

Sponsored by the Complex Organizations Program, the contest is an opportunity for MHC students to move their business concepts towards start-up. A judging panel assesses each idea on its presentation and economic feasibility; the winner receives $50 and goes on to compete at next month’s Grinspoon Foundation Entrepreneurship Awards.

Nan Zhu ’14 (pictured right), who is majoring in economics and studio art, was selected to present her business plan for a language-learning website at the Grinspoon competition.

Zhu convinced the five judges—Steven Schmeiser, assistant professor of economics and complex organizations; Susan Daniels, chair of theatre arts; Catherine McGraw, associate director of the Career Development Center; Aaron St. John, chief executive of Hitpoint Studios; and Theresa Perrone Poe '97, owner of Beehive Sewing in Northampton—of the need for a website that helps people learn new languages through video chatting and online teaching sessions.

Zhu envisions a website that would allow Chinese and American students to learn each other’s languages through free video-chatting forums and training modules that users would have to pay to receive.

“It’s like having a video pen pal,” she said. “Chatting with native speakers is one of the best ways to learn a new language quickly, and it’s a great way for people to meet over common interests.”

“Nan’s presentation was articulate and concise,” said Schmeiser. “She clearly explained how her idea will help Chinese and American students learn each other's languages in an innovative and financially sustainable way.”

The Senior Sale team of Bei Li ’13, Yu Yan ’13, and Yihan Li ’13 launched their website to provide MHC students with a way to sell secondhand items, such as room furnishings and clothes. As the students had already launched their website, they were ineligible to compete at the Grinspoon awards. Instead, they used their $50 prize to rent a server and add more functions to their website—which, since launching on March 1, has already received more than 10,000 page views.

Zhu, who graduates in December, has set her sights on a career as an entrepreneur. Launching her website, with help from a technology-savvy partner, will give her a toe in the water.

“I’m trying my best to see how far this will go,” she said. “Regardless of how it turns out, I will learn a lot. But I’m definitely going to try and make it happen this summer.