Thomas More students pitch big ideas for business, social good

Thomas More University hosted a competition for student inventors and innovators looking to make their mark on either the business world or the Greater Cincinnati community.

The Fifth Third Bank Fast Pitch Competition took place Tuesday, Oct. 3, on the university’s campus in Crestview Hills. The contest was open to all Thomas More undergraduate students, regardless of major. Participants simply had to have a new business idea or a strong growth model for an existing enterprise. Others are more community-centric projects.

This winning concept was The Saint’s Express, made up of Emma McKenna, Jenna Lillard, Tyshaun Thomas, Sofia Pearson and Matthew Igel. The project aims to provide 24/7 transportation assistance to students without a personal vehicle to ensure they have access to essential items such as menstrual products, toiletries and other everyday needs.  

For earning the top-prize, The Saint’s Express team won $2,000 in seed funding.

The event was a collaboration between Thomas More’s Dr. Anthony and Geraldine Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and Fifth Third Bank

Jeremy Faust, the bank’s vice president and director of operational sustainability, served on the judges. Others included Brianna Dzuricsko, director of funding and impact at Main Street Ventures, Patrice Brooks, senior human resources generalist at Kroger and Thomas More graduate Vashti Chatman, chief people and culture officer of The Mars Agency.

“Thomas More and its Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation are preparing today’s students to be successful leaders in tomorrow’s workforce,” said Kim Halbauer, regional president, Fifth Third Bank – Kentucky. She’s also a Thomas More alum.

“The essential skills being developed will be an asset to any company, including Fifth Third, as we look for the region’s best and brightest,” Halbauer added.

Jeni Al Bahrani, director of the Zembrodt Center, said the need for the competition reflects a “growing interest and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship” on campus and across the region. 

Organizers decided to make the event open to the public to allow residents to learn about the student-led ideas, Al Bahrani said. She hopes the broader participation will lead to financial investments in the projects or other collaborations to benefit the community.

“It is inspiring to witness the creativity and determination of our students as they present innovative business ideas and real-world problems they would like to solve,” Al Bahrani added.

A rendering of Thomas More’s new Academic Center. It will house the Zembrodt Center and two other centers once complete.

Founded earlier this year, the Zembrodt Center works to equip Thomas More students from a wide variety of disciplines with essential, real-world skills that empower them to succeed in whatever field they decide to pursue professionally. It does so through entrepreneurship classes, but also one-on-one mentorship, networking opportunities, lectures and off-campus enrichment experiences, such as the pitch competition.

Al Bahrani, who graduated from Thomas More in 2005, envisions the Zembrodt Center as a “talent pipeline.” She’s especially interested in working with students earlier in their college career to expose them to all the region has to offer in terms of professional opportunities.

In total, there were 21 students from various majors who took part in the October contest. There were several business and entrepreneurship majors, but there were several who weren’t. In fact, presenters represented all three Thomas More colleges – Robert W. Plaster College of Business, the St. Elizabeth College of Health and Natural Science and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Science.

The Zembrodt Center will be housed in Thomas More’s new Academic Center when construction concludes next school year. Other occupants of the Academic Center will be the College of Business and the Center for Faith, Mission, and Catholic Education. Housing all three centers under one roof aims to reflect the university’s belief that power of innovation isn’t limited to money alone, Al Bahrani said.

Thomas More has previously noted a desire to make sustainability, environmental innovation and social benefits key themes within the Zembrodt Center and Thomas More’s general business courses.

“Empowering students with an adaptive and innovative mindset is not just an academic pursuit; it’s about shaping the future leaders who will drive change, create value and solve problems,” Al Bahrani added.

Daniel Noguera (back/center), owner of Urbana Cafe and an alum, meets with Thomas More students.

Thomas More Fifth Third Bank Fast Pitch Competition


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