On October 26, Conestoga Administrative Business Management graduate Polly Gomides, co-founder of Escala Solutions, finished first place with a $5,000 prize at the college’s Pitch Day competition. 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.
With the support of the Preston Hespeler Rotary Club, Pitch Day @ Conestoga is sponsored through the generosity of Cambridge entrepreneur Wilf Rieck, who passed away in June 2020.
“Today’s pitchers really showcase the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation that Wilf Rieck sought to foster in the community,” said Rose Mastnak, CEC director. “Today’s prizes will help these companies continue to grow.”
Competition finalists were each given five minutes to pitch their original business ideas before taking questions from a judging panel that included local business leaders Rena Hawkins and Jim McPherson and Conestoga faculty member Barb Rice.
Gomides pitched Escala Solutions which was developed from her experience of more than 20 years teaching English as a second language. Escala is an elearning service designed to help newcomers acquire successful careers in English-speaking countries by helping them boost their ability to express themselves professionally.
“I’m very grateful,” said Gomides on learning she had won first place. “Thank you for this opportunity. To Wilf Rieck and to the Venture Lab and Entrepreneurship Collective for all their mentoring, this has been an amazing journey for me and I’m so glad that I decided to start it and that I’m currently in the process of it. Thank you so much.”
Henrique Bilbao and his cost-cutting solution for insurance companies finished in second place with a $2,000 prize. Vishnu Sagar pitched a health care human resources solution and finished in third place, securing a $1,000 prize.
“This is a perfect event to bear Wilf’s name because it reflects his inquisitive mind, his entrepreneurial spirit as well as his commitment to helping his community and giving other a leg up,” said Rieck’s stepdaughter Kate Wilhelm during the event. “He would have engaged deeply with the pitches tonight and you could expect him to ask you some tough questions that would help you think differently which characterized so many of our conversations. Congratulations tonight on your hard work.”
Pitch Day was held as part of the CEC festival - a virtual event 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.
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 November 25.