AACC Student Entrepreneurs Win Funds In Business Pitch Competition


On April 30, students at Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) stood before a panel of judges and earnestly pitched why their businesses were worthy of being awarded funds to grow. In a scene similar to the popular TV show “Shark Tank,” the young entrepreneurs were given two minutes to creatively tell the story of their small business or business idea, followed by five minutes to field questions from the panel of eight outside leaders from the business and academia realms. A total of $75,000 was awarded to this year’s business pitch competition finalists.

With little public speaking experience under his belt, 21-year-old Gaetano Ailiff was nervous to make his case for the junk removal and moving business he owns and operates with his cousin. Yet, when it was his turn to lay out his business plans, Ailiff says he “got in the zone” and did well – so well that the judges ended up awarding him the top prize of $25,000 to expand MD Junk and Moving.

“It was a great experience,” he said, noting that he is grateful for the financial investment as well as all of the intangible resources he gained during the experience. “I learned a lot. (The pitch) was something I was dreading and then I did it and it went super well, so it felt amazing afterward.”

Ailiff explained that he and his cousin plan to use the funds to purchase a box truck so they can eliminate their biggest business expense – renting trucks to complete moving jobs.

Less of a stranger to communicating before an audience, 22-year-old N’Kobe Turner was in his element when he pitched to the judges why they should consider making a financial investment in his business, Grandma’s Southern Pies. He credits his mom for the confidence; a professional singer and speaker, she required Turner and his siblings to write and deliver speeches in front of their family when they were young.

Turner, who graduated from AACC with his associate’s degree in business administration on May 22, painted a picture for the judges of childhood summers spent visiting his grandparents in Mississippi, where his grandmother would always serve her sweet potato pie. She has since passed away, but Turner keeps her memory alive by making and selling the delicious pies – and for a good cause. A portion of the proceeds from every scratch-made organic sweet potato or dessert pie are donated to an autism awareness organization. Turner explained that his older brother is autistic, and he has witnessed his brother experience discrimination and bullying and wanted to do something about it.

“I loved the (pitch) experience because it was so special to be able to connect with people and have people understand and invest in me, and in my story and my mission,” he said. Turner took home the second-place prize of $20,000, with which he plans to invest in needed equipment and access to a commercial kitchen space.

Other finalists who were awarded funds to expand their businesses were Amber Trainer, who presented The Arenda ($10,000); Jeremiah Batucan, who presented Common Goal/Ball at the Mall ($6,000); Tyler Loh, who presented Wvndr Studios ($5,000); Patti Kuhlman, who presented Breaking Waves ($3,000); Grady Cole and Matthew Wallace, who presented Mycelium Loving ($3,000); and David Pollak, who presented Soundglide ($3,000).

This year marked the 20th anniversary of the business pitch competition. Stephanie Goldenberg, AACC Entrepreneurial Studies Institute academic chair and associate professor, has facilitated the competition since 2017. She explained that it is open to any AACC student, credit or noncredit, who is an aspiring business owner or has been in business less than three years.

Goldenberg shared that she was impressed with how much the student entrepreneurs improved their pitches leading up to their big moment, but she was even more proud of the camaraderie they developed while participating in the program. “It’s a competition, but the students are encouraged to help each other be better, so they were giving each other advice,” she said. “No matter where they placed, they celebrated each other.”

The Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation provides the funds to make the business pitch competition possible. Nine students were also awarded $12,000 scholarships at the event.

To learn more about AACC’s Entrepreneurial Studies Institute or the business pitch competition, go to www.aacc.edu.


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