On April 28, seven Maricopa County Community Colleges students represented their schools. They took the stage at Venture Café Phoenix’s Thursday Gathering in the annual Big Pitch competition. These students exemplified promising talent and were selected by the faculty of their respective schools to secure a spot for the main event. The Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI), an award-winning business incubator on the GateWay Community College campus, organizes the annual competition. The generous sponsor for the awards was Wells Fargo. This event provides a platform for young innovators to showcase their business ideas, vie for startup funding, and gain valuable insights.

  • Aaliyah Newton, founder of Lili’s Stickers & Threadz and representing Estrella Mountain Community College.
  • Davina Gregan, founder of NOVA Gaming Center and representing Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
  • Jarod McGuire, founder of Broadcast.GG and representing Paradise Valley Community College. 
  • Jarvis Ross, founder of DeliverEase and representing Rio Salado Community College. 
  • Natalia Nava Bravo, founder of CUSUA and representing Mesa Community College. 
  • Tiffany Sanchez, founder of Tiffany Rae and representing Phoenix College.
  • Xavier Lopez, founder of Mereli Chili and representing Scottsdale Community College.

Attendees of the Thursday Gathering had the opportunity to witness student entrepreneurs showcase their pitches. Each had a unique perspective on tackling contemporary challenges with businesses that ranged from tech startups to eco-conscious initiatives Despite the competitive nature of the event, there was a strong sense of camaraderie among the participants, who supported one another.

Each student had a nerve-wracking 5 minutes to pitch their business plan, followed by 5 minutes of questioning from a team of experienced startup judges.  The panel included Bob DeLean, Executive Director of Arizona Tech Investors; Lou Farina, Business Advisor for SBDC; Joseph Bianchi, Venture Development Manager at Arizona Commerce Authority; and Amber Cordoba, Director of Business Education and Consulting Services for Prestamos CDFI.

After the final pitch, while the judges deliberated, the attention was on the audience to determine the people’s choice winner with a live poll displayed around the stage. The winner will receive $2,000. It was an exciting race as the crowd watched the poll inch forward to see who our winner would be. The people’s choice winner was Natalia Nava Bravo, founder of CASUA. Her business provides a fully self-contained hydroponic system for homeowners.

Ultimately, the judges determined the winner of the Big Pitch 2024, awarding them startup capital in recognition of their potential for significant impact. Natalia Nava Bravo, founder of CUSUA from Mesa Community College, took home the grand prize of $5,000 donated by Wells Fargo. Reflecting on her success, Natalia had this to say, 

“I am Natalia Nava Bravo. I was born and raised in Puebla, Mexico. Two years ago, I came to the United States to follow my dream of studying environmental and sustainability. I am graduating from Mesa Community College and will transfer to Arizona State University next semester. The business idea started in middle school when I learned how the efficient use of water in agriculture could change many people’s lives. When I began to get involved and understand how hydroponic systems work, I fell in love with it. I saw great potential in creating a business around this idea. So, in high school, I got advice from my school’s business incubator to start developing a business model. When I came to the United States, I took hydroponics classes, which gave me the experience I needed to create a prototype. At the same time, all my leadership activities at school connected me with people interested in working with me on this project. That’s how the business idea and team were formed.

 The school chose us for this competition because we have a well-established business model and are the most experienced students. We also had to have won the 24-hour challenge proposed by Mesa Chambers of Commerce and a grant to finance our prototype. With the money from the competition, we plan to continue funding our prototype so that we will soon have our product available for purchase.”

The second-place winner of $3,000 was Jarod McGuire, founder of Broadcast.GG from Paradise Community College. His business provides a platform for Esports professionals to manage their talent portfolios effortlessly and automatically monitor their event engagement. Moreover, it doubles as a job board, facilitating event organizers scouting talent within the vibrant Esports industry.

As the event concluded, participants left with renewed purpose, ready to continue their entrepreneurial journeys. The event provided a platform for showcasing their ideas and fostered a network of connections and support. CEI extends its gratitude to all involved, including the participants, attendees, Venture Café Phoenix, and especially Wells Fargo, for their invaluable contributions to nurturing the entrepreneurial spirit within Maricopa County Community Colleges. 

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