Three Georgetown University entrepreneurs tied for first place at this year’s student business pitch competition.
The Bark Tank competition, which took place virtually Oct. 27, seeks to financially support business ventures created by Georgetown entrepreneurs, both undergraduate and graduate, by enabling students to pitch their business ideas for a chance to win up to $30,000 in prize money.
Unlike previous years, three ventures tied for first place in this year’s competition: KnoNap, Button Helper and Project Olas. Each took home $30,000 in prize money.
KnoNap, founded by Danya Sherman (GRD ’21) in 2017, works to educate students about and advocate against drug-facilitated sexual assault.
“We empower individuals against drink spiking through access to discreet, gender-inclusive, portable detection devices that test for specific date-rape drug presence,” Sherman wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Sherman has spoken and pitched to international audiences about her business, which has allowed her to witness how important her business is to many people. She has represented the United States at the 2018 G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and the 2019 GES Summit in the Hague.
“After pitches or presentations, I have commonly been approached by individuals who share with me their experiences with drink spiking and or sexual violence,” Sherman wrote. “To me, these conversations reaffirm the importance of KnoNap and the dialogue we are building alongside KnoNap’s existence.”
Sherman plans on using the prize money to advance her business by finalizing the research development and initial manufacturing run of KnoNap’s product, a cocktail napkin that detects date-rape drugs in drinks.
Button Helper, founded by Robert Bolen (MSB ’20), aims to help disabled people to dress themselves with magnetic buttons.
Project Olas, which was founded by Rebecca Cox (SFS ’23), offers conversational Spanish tutoring taught by moms living near Guatemala City’s largest landfill. Project Olas helps address two problems, according to Cox.
“We help moms in the [Guatemala City garbage dump] access safe and sustainable work where they earn more in one hour than what they would typically earn in a day,” Cox wrote in an email to The Hoya. “And we offer Spanish students the conversational practice that’s hard to get without going abroad.”
The coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for Project Olas, especially since everything is online and requires a decent understanding of technology, according to Cox. The money the project won will help fuel their efforts.
“Previously we were bootstrapping completely on $10,000 from the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Challenge. Now we can expand our reach substantially, and grow much faster than we had anticipated,” she wrote.
The competition and prize money is supported by Ted Leonsis (CAS ’77), founder, majority owner, chairman and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, a Washington, D.C. company that markets live events.
Although this year’s competition was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event was not only a success, but the best event since Bark Tank was launched four years ago, according to Jeff Reid, founding director of Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative.
“While we missed out on having the energy of a packed auditorium and some valuable post-event networking, we were still able to experience the drama that comes with a high stakes competition,” Reid wrote. “Ted Leonsis was so impressed, he messaged me in the middle of the event to offer additional prize money to make sure every team was rewarded.”
Reid said he admired this year’s business pitches, ones that he said were focused on benefitting society, not just making profits.
“Georgetown students are leveraging entrepreneurship to solve problems and make the world better,” Reid wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This year’s Bark Tank winners are already making a difference in the world.”