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Student Entrepreneurs Tackle Real-World Problems

Even as COVID-19 forced students to online platforms, entrepreneurs from Iona College’s Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation demonstrated a vision for solving real-world problems during the third annual Iona Innovation Challenge (IIC).

Held virtually on April 30, students pitched their ideas in a ’Shark Tank’-style competition to a panel of expert judges selected from corporate, nonprofit, investment and higher education partners across the region. Winners received cash prizes ranging from $3,000 for first prize and $1,200 for second prize, to $500 for the Fan Favorite. The 2020 winners were:


A company launched by Raymond Carapella ’20 and Michaela Ceci (Marist College) that manufactures eco-friendly, decomposable and cost-effective clothing hangers for major retailers.

A concept presented by Amanda Fitzgerald ’22MA and Gurpreet Singh ’22MA to bring representation and inclusivity through the form of college-branded, adaptive apparel to the Iona College community.

A beverage pouring device pitched by Christina Bryde ’20MBA to monitor pouring levels for consistency and safety.

Danny Potocki ’06, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, who led the program at Iona College’s Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, said, “That the students were able to bring their ideas to completion and deliver such compelling pitches – even virtually – perfectly captures the spirit of entrepreneurship. As innovators, we keep going despite, and often because of, the challenges we are presented with.” 

The ICC was the culmination of a full semester of idea development, research and mentorship. Students worked on their ideas by completing a series of milestones that included a video pitch, an executive summary, and a pitch slide deck. Throughout the process, students gained valuable feedback by working with mentors from a variety of fields.

In addition to the top three winners:

The Social Impact Award was presented to 1st place winner, The Entrepreneurial Guide, created by Riana Khan ’22. This concept is a cohesive digital guide comprised of proven entrepreneurial sources in one platform. Second place in this category was awarded to Giving Smiles, a technology platform to provide impoverished children with gifts, founded by Amanda McCormack ’19, ’20MBA

“Competing in the Iona Innovation Challenge expanded my understanding of what it means and what it takes to be an entrepreneur of color,” Khan said. “It is part of my mission to help build the mindset of other minority entrepreneurs through my company, like the Hynes Institute has helped me over the past several months.”

The “Fan Favorite” Award was given to JR10 Corp., which used high-quality fashion to raise awareness for children diagnosed with brain cancer in memory of Jack Egan Reyna, of Bedford, N.Y., who passed away at the age of 13. Presented by Giuliano Santucci ’21, this pitch video received the most likes on Iona College’s Instagram. 

In 2017, the Hynes Institute started with a vision to bring new learning opportunities to Iona College by helping students develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Almost three years later, this vision is visibly alive at the intersection of the state-of-the art learning spaces, the students who engage in those spaces, and the programs that support the students in those spaces. With an interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate program in entrepreneurship and innovation, Iona has emerged as a leader in the region. In doing so, the Hynes Institute continues to build a community of support for its students by bringing together businesses, industry professionals, and other stakeholders with deep and diversified expertise and experience.

“Our students are at the center of everything we do,” said Christoph Winkler, Ph.D., endowed professor and founding program director of the Hynes Institute. “They are our most valuable asset as we continue to build and grow our program. The work that they did, despite the current climate, is a testament to their commitment as leaders and scholars in our community.”

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