Students RISE to the challenge at Hampden-Sydney College

Published 8:35 am Monday, March 27, 2023

HAMPDEN-SYDNEY – It started back in October, as teams had to submit a video, explaining why their business idea was needed. Over the last six months, these groups of college students went further than that, building business models, developing feasibility studies and preparing to pitch their project to a group of judges at Hampden-Sydney College. In the end of the RISE competition on Thursday, March 23, three groups walked away with seed money to help turn those ideas into reality. 

This is the RISE Collegiate Business Plan Competition, an idea set up to help college students gain some real-world experience in running a business. In this region, students from six institutions had the opportunity to compete. That included Longwood University, New College Institute, Hampden-Sydney College, Patrick & Henry Community College, Danville Community College and Averett University. 

When the group comes up with an idea and presents their pitch video, then they get help from different professors, business mentors and access to a number of resources that will help turn this idea into a viable business. 

Wall walks away with the win

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Sara Wall tackled the project on her own and it ended up working out in her favor. The Martinsville resident and Patrick & Henry Community College student earned first prize, along with $1,000, to help launch Swam. Her idea is to create an eco-friendly products store in Martinsville, first by staffing booths promoting the products at local events. Then, she plans to develop partnerships with other stores, to get them to sell her products. Finally, when her brand is big enough, Wall wants to launch a brick-and-mortar storefront in Martinsville. 

Two Longwood students, meanwhile, tied for second place. Chatham native Dusten Wood plans to use his $750 to continue prototype development and play-testing of his strategy board game called Stickler. The idea is that the game will help its players develop better social skills. 

Woods’ fellow Longwood students, Danielle Whittington, also received $750 to help build her project. The Washington D.C. native is developing a mobile app, which is designed to be an all-in-one mental health resource for college students. 


Longwood student Dusten Wood presents his board game idea to the RISE judges.

A couple other students fell just short of the podium on Thursday. Hampden-Sydney College student Jack Whelahan pitched a jewelry brand, while the Longwood team of Caitlin Wiley, Jacob Poteat and John Eddy focused on a mobile app that they believe could help cut down on food waste. The team of Averett students Christopher Byrd, Andrew Rabon, Blake Frost and Brayden Fair suggested a water cleanup system, while Longwood student Olivia Hopkins pitched a nonprofit catering operation. 

RISE competition goes to the judges

All total, there were seven teams, consisting of 12 would-be student entrepreneurs. During Thursday’s event, the groups presented their work to both a panel of judges and a live audience at Hampden-Sydney College. The judges included Anne Tyler Paulek from the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce, Ilsa Loeser of Letterpress Communications, Logan Ryan of Long and Foster Real Estate, Steve Creedle of Benchmark Community Bank in Kenbridge and Varun Sadana from The Launch Place.