The Whet Towel was the winning idea in this year's challenge.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — There were three finalists for the third annual Innovation and Entrepreneurial Challenge on Wednesday night. They were different yet had one thing in common: being eco-friendly or at least all-natural.
But it was the pitch about making disposal razors last longer that stood out for the judges and deemed worthy of the $10,000 prize.
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts students Nicholas Strezynski and Owen Fitzgerald came up with towel that includes a denim strop designed to extend the life of disposable razors.
"For years, I've been using disposable razors to shave. And very quickly I became sick of the process of having to buy more razors all the time, running out of them, getting a poor quality shave," Strezynski said. "And there's no thought process at all actually taking care of it and even thinking about how long could it potentially last me."
After he found that using denim could lengthen the lifespan of a disposable razor, he started bringing a pair of jeans into the bathroom with him.
"And I just realized this past summer that there's probably a better way to do this," he laughed.
Thus "The Whet Towel," an innovation of a regular terry towel created with the help of sewing lessons by Theresa Grieger.
"It's harder than we expected it to be," Strezynski said. "We were determined to have a product."
Some 2 billion disposable razors are tossed every year because they are difficult to recycle. Using the strop "realigns the blade" in a way that makes it last longer, although Strezynski admitted they were depending on presumed competitor for that information.
They were encouraged to get their own testing done and to consider how to bring customers back for more. They're already producing Whet Towels for sale and plan to use the $10,000 for the next phase of expansion.
The entrepreneurs will also get advice and space to continue the development of their product from local business incubator Lever Inc., which has partnered with the college in all three challenges.
The judges said they had a difficult time determining this year's winner from the other two finalists.
Scotia Bent had pitched BUtiful, a line of natural lotions and headwraps.
Women of color had often used harmful and painful chemicals to straighten their to align with European notions of beauty, she said.
"So I want people of color to have access to products that don't harm their features and I want them to have access to products that enhance them," Bent explained. "BUtiful will provide handmade products that are healthy, and products that cater to everyone no matter what you look like, no matter your skin tone, no matter your hair type or texture.
BUtiful was for "be yourself," she said. "I want to show little girls like me that it's Ok to be natural."
Gabrielle Kernozek envisioned an online service to bring eco-friendly products "Naked at Your Door" through a subscription service. The term "naked" is commonly used within that community to mean not overly packaged or without packaging, she said, and the goal is to reduce the use of plastics.
It can be difficult for consumers to research and find products that are eco-friendly, affordable and accessible, she said.
"My solution to this problem is to make reducing plastic simple. Naked at Your Door will serve as a personal eco-friendly shopper who will supply you with product alternatives that you want and need," Kernozek said. "This service will help connect individuals with effective, dependable and impactful products with minimal personal effort."
Judges this year were Richard Alcombright, former mayor and a vice president at MountainOne; Celia Clancy, a retail executive and consultant for a number of national chains; and Ben Svenson, a Boston-area real estate developer and principal of the Tourist resort.
Amy Shapiro, business assistance director for the Franklin County Community Development Corp., was "entrepreneur in residence." She worked with the students for 10 weeks as they developed their ideas.
Tara Barboza, assistant professor of accounting, gave the welcome and President James Birge thanked the students for "giving us the gift of your ideas and your innovation as you present them tonight. ... Congratulations regardless of the outcome tonight."
Last year's winner, Shannon Cahill, was also on hand. The MCLA graduate now works for the college in institutional advancement but she's also continuing to develop her winning pitch — with a bit of a pivot.
Her plan had been to develop marketing and rentals related to booking bands and musicians. That aspect has switched more to doing graphic arts and marketing materials and the named changed to The Think Book.
She focuses on marketing, social media analysis and website maintenance, including a flat-rate subscription service, and does consulting. Though she still does some booking and promotion on the side.
"And I still work within the arts," Cahill said. "So my main customers are different performing artists, from all authors, musicians, to museums, galleries, nonprofits."
Her life's come a bit full circle, she said, because she's planning the upcoming reunion weekend and booked a local band, plus working in social media, graphic design and event planning.
"My internship at Lever was crucial to my development as an entrepreneur," Cahill said. "It was an incredible experience."
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