Jolene MacDonald, a 1999 Graphic Design graduate and 2016 Conestoga Alumni of Distinction honouree, finished first place with a $5,000 prize during the college’s Pitch Day competition on October 28. The annual event was hosted by the Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective (CEC) through a virtual platform to showcase the best entrepreneurs with pre-seed start-ups in Conestoga’s Venture Lab.
Jolene MacDonald, a 1999 Graphic Design graduate and 2016 Conestoga Alumni of Distinction honouree, finished first place at the college’s Pitch Day competition.
The competition followed a full-day virtual CEC festival that provided opportunities to learn more about the labs and programs hosted through the Collective as well as celebrate the entrepreneurs in the Conestoga community.
“This is such an incredible way to cap off all of that investigation and learning from today,” said Rose Mastnak, CEC director, as she welcomed guests to the competition. “We’re here tonight to celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship at Conestoga and the hard work and passion of all the entrepreneurs who have been through the Venture Lab since September 2019.”
Pitch Day applications closed October 18 with the top ten finalists announced October 21. During the competition, the top three finalists were each given five minutes to pitch their business before taking questions from a judging panel that included business leaders Troy Miller, Amber French, Jim McPherson and Chad Gagne.
MacDonald pitched Accessibrand, the full-service accessibility-focused design and marketing agency she founded. Through her own life experiences - her daughter was born with dwarfism and MacDonald herself was diagnosed with an invisible disability - she realized the need to create a different kind of accessibility-based company. She sold her shares in her existing business and began to build a collective of professionals who have all been impacted by disability and require flexible work.
“Based on my 20 years of agency experience and 17 years as a business owner, these are some of the problems I’ve encountered: accessibility is an afterthought, software can’t replace user experience, and people impacted by disability need flexible work. We feel we can help solve these accessibility issues,” explained MacDonald during her pitch. “The value we provide is being able to offer all accessibility services through one company rather than dealing with three different ones. This saves clients time and costs and reduces project management stress.”
In addition to her first-place win, MacDonald was also recently featured on the Startup and Slay digital series presented by How She Hustles. The series highlights diverse women and non-binary entrepreneurs who share inspiring stories and practical business insights.
Taylor Jackson, a third-year Bachelor of Design student, pitched Press Pause - a start-up that focuses on youth mental health and wellness. She finished in second place with a $2,000 prize.
Automa Projex - a consulting engineering company pitched by third-year Mechanical Systems Engineering student Kenan Barker - finished in third place with a $1,000 prize.
With the support of the Preston Hespeler Rotary Club, Pitch Day is now sponsored through the generosity of Cambridge entrepreneur Wilf Rieck who donated a generous gift to the CEC in order to provide annual prize money for Pitch Day. Rieck passed away in June 2020 and is said to have embodied the program's entrepreneurial and community spirit.
“We want to thank you so much for supporting the prizing for all our winners tonight and in perpetuity for the years to come,” said Mastnak to the Rieck family members who attended the competition. “It makes an enormous difference to us at Conestoga and in the Collective -- and certainly to the entrepreneurs who will be walking away with those prizes tonight.”
The Conestoga Entrepreneurship Collective empowers and inspires students and alumni to successfully participate in the Waterloo Region entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem by providing multiple pathways for engagement that include developing a new business, becoming a corporate innovator and providing support systems to the ecosystem.
The CEC’s Venture Lab is designed to support the development of early-stage start-ups through one-on-one coaching, access to industry mentors as well as college and community new venture development resources, and participation in workshops and targeted sessions with subject matter experts. Applications for the Venture Lab's next cohort close December 4.