Beating out contestants from 13 other public and private colleges and universities in western Massachusetts, HCC business major Taylor Kachinski took first place this week in a business competition, pitching a mobile food service targeting time-starved working parents. Facing a crowd of more than 440 people at the Log Cabin in Holyoke, she convinced a panel of bank judges that her pitch for "The Wheelin' Chef" was the best.
"She made us all very proud," said HCC business professor Ellen Majka. "She stood out, above and beyond. She nailed it."
About 70 business students, faculty members and staff from Holyoke Community College were on hand to witness what many said was a "flawless" performance by Kachinski in the annual elevator pitch competition held during the awards ceremony and banquet for the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Entrepreneurship Initiative, which also provides grants each year called Spirit Awards to student entrepreneurs.
An elevator pitch is an overview of an idea for a new business, the premise being that an effective pitch should be delivered in the time span of an elevator ride, roughly 90 seconds. The term is used when entrepreneurs pitch ideas to venture capitalists. The judges not only value good business ideas but how those ideas are presented.
"Taylor was by far the most polished of all the participants," said Susanne Ollmann, an HCC graduate, former Grinspoon Spirit Award winner and professional photographer.
For taking top honors, Kachinski will receive a check for $1,000. After graduating from HCC June 1 with an associate degree in business administration, Kachinski, who lives in Palmer, will continue her education at the University of Massachusetts Isenberg School of Management in Amherst. She will also spend a month this summer in Florence, Italy, studying international marketing.
To perfect her winning pitch, Kachinski said she spent dozens of hours practicing. She credits her participation in the HCC Entrepreneurship Club for her success. It was during the club's weekly gatherings that she honed and tweaked both her idea and her execution, with the help of Majka, the club advisor, and her fellow club members.
"The club was everything," she said. "If I wasn't in the club I wouldn't have done anything."
She also practiced during her public speaking class and computer applications class, the latter taught by Majka.
"She worked really hard," said Majka. "Our only concern was that she would go over the 90 second time limit. She was at 89 seconds."
The elevator pitch competition featured a student representative from each of 14 local colleges: American International College, Amherst College, Bay Path College, Elms College, Greenfield Community College, Hampshire College, Holyoke Community College, Mt. Holyoke College, Smith College, Springfield College, Springfield Technical Community College, University of Massachusetts, Western New England University and Westfield State University.
Three HCC students were also recognized this year with Grinspoon Spirit Awards, which provide funding for students running businesses. This year the winners, who will split a $2,500 grant, were communications major Joseph Urban, owner of Take This To Heart Records in Westfield; early education major Michelle Sergneri, owner of Cozy Cubs Daycare in Chicopee; and entrepreneurship major Amber Bartosz, owner of Amber Bee Home Upholstery and Lampshades in Easthampton.
Kachinski said she developed her idea for "The Wheelin' Chef" after discussions with her father, owner of Baystate Building Maintenance in Springfield, and Majka. Originally, the idea she presented to the Entrepreneurship Club was for a business that delivered hot, healthy meals to customers' homes at the end of the working day. But Majka and Kachinski's classmates felt that was not unique, so she changed the premise to have the meals delivered to the customer's workplace instead.
"Customers conveniently stop at the Wheelin' Chef Mobile Unit on their way from the office to their car to pick up their pre-ordered, delectable meals," reads a "Wheelin' Chef" synopsis.
The last line from her winning pitch: "We make the meals, you make the memories."
Award in hand, the night is sure to be one Kachinski will not easily forget.
Photos by Susanne Ollmann: (Left) Taylor Kachinski delivers the winning pitch. (Right) Kachinski, center, accepts her award from Harold Grinspoon, right, and Cari Carpenter, director of the Grinspoon Entrepreneurship Initiative.