By Megan Sayles, AFRO Business Writer
Report for America Corps Member
After more than three months, BearWay Capital’s HBCU New Venture Challenge concluded on Nov. 20 with a grand finale. Three finalists pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges in a 30-minute presentation, and Spelman College senior Inglish Hills was awarded first prize for her pitch of Save Cycle, an incentive-based recycling service that will foster a more sustainable future.
“This was my first time pitching ever. I’ve never done a pitch competition before, but this idea of Save Cycle was a very raw idea before I started,” said Hills. “Three months later, to have a whole business plan and business model, it’s amazing to see how the idea has just grown over this short span of time.”
The HBCU New Venture Challenge, a business plan competition for students enrolled in the top 21 historically Black colleges or universities in the country, started on Aug. 1 with 16 teams from eight HBCUs. Their business ideas spanned across 11 industrial sectors, and the challenge consisted of four rounds.
The five founding partners of BearWay Capital, all graduates of Morgan State University, created the HBCU New Venture Challenge to address the funding gap that exists between HBCUs and predominantly White institutions.
As the winner of the challenge, Hills received $25,000 in seed funding for Save Cycle. She plans to use the money to secure a patent and pilot the business in Atlanta.
Hills, who studies sociology and is on the pre-law track at Spelman College, generated the idea for Save Cycle in 2019 while having a picnic in the park with her friends. When the group was ready to leave, they could not find a recycling bin nearby to dispose of their waste.
Eventually, they spotted a homeless man who was collecting recyclables to sell for cash, and Hills discerned that more people should be able to make money by recycling.
“It hit me, why aren’t people recycling, and I realized as I had the recyclables in my hand and trash in the other, it’s not convenient,” said Hills. “It’s easy for me to throw it all away in the trash can, but I can make money the same way this man is making money.”
In the commercial market, Save Cycle will undercut waste management services and pick up recyclables for businesses at a cheaper price. Businesses can use the Save Cycle app to schedule pick ups and rent dumpsters. They can also track their environmental impact, making them eligible for tax advantages.
In the consumer market, individuals will be able to use the Save Cycle app to locate deposit boxes. After disposing of their recyclables, they can scan a QR code and get money back instantly.
Throughout the competition, imposter syndrome was the biggest challenge for Hills. However, BearWay Capital provided her mentors who helped her to overcome her insecurities. Hills also received support from students at Spelman College’s Innovation Lab, who helped prepare her for the judges’ questions.
“When I graduated high school, I did not start college right away because I never thought I was smart enough to go to college,” said Hills. “Now, here I am at the number one HBCU with pre-seed funding to start my business on my way to law school. This competition has really just solidified my collegiate journey.”
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