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Innovators Take the Stage

Last updated April 18, 2022

By Jarrod Wiggins

Like most woodwind players, first-year student Alexandra Valdovinos goes through a lot of reeds each month. She loves the music she can create with the reeds  – thin pieces of wood that vibrate when a musician blows into an instrument like a clarinet or saxophone. But she doesn’t like the environmental waste that results from frequently replacing her reeds.

So, with mentorship and coaching from The Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Valdovinos blended her interests in music and sustainability. The result was a new venture idea for environmentally friendly reeds and packaging. And now, as the winner of the Third Annual Paladin Pitch Competition, she will have $10,000 in resources to make her idea a reality.

Valdovinos rose to the top of a field of 52 new venture ideas from Furman students to win the annual competition. Her $10,000 prize will consist of a seed grant, coaching and mentoring, a scholarship to Furman’s Summer Business and Innovation Camp, and co-working space on campus and off campus in downtown Greenville to continue development of her venture.

“I can’t wait for this journey, and it’s a dream come true,” said Valdovinos. “I want to thank The Hill Institute for all of their help with making my goals come to life.”

“Alexandra and all of the students who participate in the Paladin Pitch Competition are outstanding examples of The Furman Advantage,” said Anthony Herrera, executive director of The Hill Institute. “Students are provided the resources and platform to take a venture from idea to execution through mentoring, coaching and funding. Ultimately, our community benefits from these world-changing leaders and ideas from our students and alumni.”

The Paladin Pitch Competition also included:

  •  Ian Martens, a senior majoring in information technology and economics, who created Real Returns. The tool is a platform for young adults to invest in real estate and earn passive income.
  •  Alan Bi, a first-year student majoring in business and accounting, who created RevTech. The platform will connect entrepreneurs to software engineers for website and app creation and development.
  •  Anna Justice, a senior majoring in sustainability science, who created The Shack. It’s an on-campus thrift store with a goal to reduce excess waste created at residence hall move-in and move-out timeframes.

In total, the Paladin Pitch Competition included 52 new venture ideas from Furman students. Those ventures were narrowed down to 13 semi-finalists, five finalists and then four final pitches after a four-week intensive preparation period which consisted of impactful ideation, market research, pitch deck creation and coaching and mentorship on the pitch process from institutional and business leaders.

In its third year, the Paladin Pitch Competition has already seen the continued success of its winners, like 2021 winner Brooke Dominiak ’23, who won the recent Southern Conference Entrepreneurship Challenge.

In addition to the Paladin Pitch Competition, The Hill Institute recently completed its second GVL Starts program. While similar to the Paladin Pitch Competition, GVL Starts is in partnership with the city of Greenville, the South Carolina Department of Commerce, the Greenville Local Development Coporation, SCRA, VentureSouth, Patent Hacks and Piedmont Natural Gas to allow for community members, not just Furman students, to successfully launch their venture.

GVL Starts is an eight-week application-based program that offers workshops, coaching and mentoring to aspiring entrepreneurs from the Upstate who are in the early stage of their venture and are seeking training, connections and access to capital. The spring 2022 cohort included 25 participants, of whom 56% were female and 42% were people of color.

GVL Starts concludes with a graduation and Demo Day that culminates in a pitch. The spring 2022 category winners along with the crowd favorite, all of whom won $5,000 in prizes, were:

Erin Mehagan for her venture, Livi Lou Laine, in the product/service category.

Allan Symonette for his venture,, in the tech/software category.

Anthony Maboko and Chantae Wardlaw for their venture, Mochinut, as the crowd favorite.

Regional aspiring entrepreneurs interested in participating in future GVL Starts cohorts can learn more and register here.

Last updated April 18, 2022
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Clinton Colmenares
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