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Macomb Community College’s first-ever student pitch competition awards more than $9,000 to aspiring entrepreneurs

– Thursday, April 30, 2015 12:00AM

Eight finalists chosen from a field of more than 50 students pitched ideas to an experienced panel of judges

More than $9,000 was awarded April 24 at the finals of the Macomb Community College Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s first-ever student pitch competition.

The center, established last fall, is a one-stop resource for both students and community members for entrepreneurship education and training, mentorship for startups and existing small business, and access to capital. It sponsored the competition to introduce students to the world and process of entrepreneurship.

The eight final competitors were chosen from more than 50 Macomb students who pitched their ideas at a “first cut” competition on April 17. Prior to the April 17 competition, more than 60 students attended a “boot camp,” held April 10. The $5,000 first-place prize was donated by First State Bank, which also sponsored the competition. Second- and third-place prizes of $3,000 and $1,000 respectively were provided by Macomb. All of the events were held at the college’s Center Campus in Clinton Township.

“This competition is an example of how Macomb can leverage our partnerships in private business to do something that builds upon our educational mission and help make a tangible change in the community,” said James Jacobs, PhD, president of Macomb Community College. “Win or lose, each competitor learned what it was like to make a case for their business ideas and make a first step toward entrepreneurship.”

The first-place winner was Naznin Aktar of Warren, who plans to open a store called Peace, which would sell clothing and household goods primarily to immigrant women, while also providing free services such as English language lessons and assistance with the social studies portion of the U.S. citizenship exam.  Aktar, who is originally from Bangladesh, said her business idea was based in part on her own immigrant experience and that of her family. She is studying chemical engineering and food science at Macomb.

Aktar said participation in the pitch competition gave her “a great amount of knowledge” about running a business and competing for funding. Her next step, she said, will be to apply the $5,000 prize toward leasing space for her proposed store and buying inventory.

Second prize was awarded to Teron C. Varner of Shelby Township for his business concept called Devine C.U.T.S, a mobile salon to offer services such as haircuts, manicures and pedicures from a vehicle that can go to wherever the customer is. Varner, who is studying global supply chain management, said the pitch competition process helped him polish his presentation skills and also got him thinking like a business person.

“As a business person, it really prepared me so far as what to know,” Varner said. He said the program taught him a lot about the financial aspects of running a business and how to present his idea to others so that they understand his vision.  Varner said his next step will be to set the prize money aside while he does some additional planning and puts together more funds. But he does not want to wait very long. Ideally, he would like to launch his business sometime in June.

Third prize went to business major Lauren Williams of Chesterfield, who is working to establish a nonprofit organization called The Tomorrow Project to educate high school and college students about depression, suicide and mental health via one-hour presentations in schools. Williams said the pitch competition helped her make invaluable connections and taught her “how a community can really stand behind you when you put your mind to something.”

In addition to winning the $1,000 third prize, Williams received a $430 “audience choice” award. It was funded by audience members who bought $5 tickets for the right to vote for their favorite contestants. Williams said her immediate plan is to open a business bank account and hire an attorney to help her establish a tax-exempt charitable entity.

Contestants were given three minutes each to present their ideas to a panel of five judges, who ranked each presentation using a set of criteria including the strength of the idea, understanding of the target market, competitive differentiation and the contestants’ plans for how they would use the prize money.  The presentations were followed up with a question and answer session with the judges. 

Judges for the competition were:

  • Nicole Farmer, president and CEO of LifeLine Business Consulting Service in Detroit, which specializes in helping women-owned businesses to advance their goals.
  • Gene Lovell, president and CEO of First State Bank, based in St. Clair Shores. 
  • Wyatt Istavan-Mitchell, senior counsel in the Southfield office of statewide law firm Warner Norcross and Judd.
  • Charlie Moret, president and CEO of Detroit-based Invest Michigan, which runs the $6.8 million Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund 2.0.
  • Jamie Shea, managing director of investments for Mission Throttle, a Southfield-based firm that specializes in “impact investing,” which seeks to create a positive social or environmental benefits along with a financial return.

“The process of working with all the contestants, whether they won prize money or not, is just beginning,” said Derrin Leppek, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We intend to keep working with each of these students as a resource for advice, mentorship and instruction as they move forward with accomplishing their dreams.”

For more information about the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, click here or call 586.226.4833 between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

About Macomb Community College
Macomb Community College ( is one of the nation’s leading community colleges, providing learning experiences to nearly 48,000 students annually.  Macomb nationally ranks in the top two percent in the number of associate degrees awarded by community colleges.  The college’s comprehensive educational programming includes pre-collegiate experiences, university transfer and career preparation programs, bachelor degree completion and graduate degree programs, workforce training, professional education and certification, and continuing education and enrichment opportunities.

 Media Contact: James Melton, 586.445.7271,

Naznin Aktar
Naznin Aktar of Warren, first-place winner of Macomb Community
College Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s first-ever student
pitch competition.


From left: Naznin Aktar of Warren, first-place winner of Macomb Community
College Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s first-ever student
pitch competition; second-place winner Teron C. Varner of Shelby Township;
third-place and audience choice award winner Lauren Williams of Chesterfield.