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Lilly Woo ’24 and Woo Milk wins 2024 Paladin Pitch

Lilly Woo ’24 won the 2024 Paladin Pitch Competition for her company Woo Milk.

Last updated April 13, 2024

By Clinton Colmenares, Director of News and Media Strategy

Lilly Woo ’24 found inspiration for innovation in her mom’s fridge at home in Nashville. She realized the almond milk she drank lacked extra protein and contained a lot of preservatives. Some day, she thought, she would make a better product.

On Thursday afternoon, Woo stood on stage in disbelief as she was announced the winner of the $10,000 Johnny Flynn Paladin Pitch Award at the fifth-annual Furman University Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Paladin Pitch Competition.

Glimmering gold confetti burst into the air and bass-heavy jams boomed from speakers. A crowd of mostly students cheered and waved rainbow-colored light sticks as she was handed an oversized check representing support for her quest to create Woo Milk, a plant-based drink high in protein and nutrients from super foods, without preservatives.

Portrait of a young woman talking at a lectern.

Alice Tyszka ’25 won second place for Alice’s Authoring Company.

“I worked really hard,” Woo, a public health major, said when asked if she expected to win. “I feel like I put so much effort in and I feel like I was confident in my idea, but my competitors are also really great, so I think we all had an equal shot.”

The prize money will help Woo work with food scientists to start creating a product. She hopes to eventually own a piece of the $2 billion U.S. market for plant-based milk.

Second place in the competition and a $2,000 prize went to Alice Tyszka ’25 for Alice’s Authoring Company, a business she already runs that provides editing, marketing and peer support for writers. Conor Dowler ’24 won the crowd favorite award and $1,000 for Palate Pal, an algorithm that helps diners select wine.

Three other students competed. Jack Travis ’27 pitched an idea for a protective sleeve athletes can slip on their cleats when they’re not playing. The Cleat Clinger would prolong the life of the cleats and add safety for the athletes. Sawyer Sams ’24 and Pedro Moreira ’26 teamed up to pitch an innovative approach to financial advising for young adults.

Fifteen students applied to participate in the pitch. They went through a multi-step application process over a two-week period that included multiple interviews and video submissions. The finalists received mentoring and training on how to best pitch their ideas. Last year’s winner, Spencer Tate ’24, who co-founded a company called dotflo, and Kylie Felker ’09, president and principal of Foster Victor Wealth Advisors in Greenville, judged the competition.

Portrait of a young man in a suit talking in front of a presentation.

Conor Dowler ’24 won the Crowd Favorite Award for his Palate Pal idea.

Bryan Davis, executive director of the Hill Institute, said the competition was “an embarrassment of riches. Every student who stepped on stage had an idea for a winning new venture and a perfectly delivered business pitch.”

Davis said the Hill Institute team reviews and improves each competition. This year they increased the amount of rigorous mentorship and coaching the competitors received from their staff, other business founders, investors and professionals in the community to polish and focus their pitches.

Each of the previous events has also built momentum, Davis said. “More and more of these students are actually growing these early-stage ideas into viable new ventures. This isn’t just about a flashy idea or cool research, it’s about translating ideas into viable value-producing ventures.”

President Elizabeth Davis thanked donors for the generous gifts that help The Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship operate without using student tuition dollars. “These leaders include Robert and Margaret Hill, Leighan and Dave Rinker, Gary and Kristi Davies, Ron Malone, Dave Ellison, Jamie Lanier, Kevin Byrne, and many more.”

She gave a special thanks to Phyllis Flynn, who was in the audience, and family and friends of the late Johnny Flynn who endowed the “Johnny Flynn Paladin Pitch Award.”

A young woman holds a large check for $10,000 while people look on.

Lilly Woo ’24 holds a check for $10,000 after being named the winner of Paladin Pitch Competition.

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Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy