Thomas More students qualify for Ky. pitch finals for first time

For the first time, Thomas More University students have advanced to the finals of the Kentucky Collegiate Pitch, the state’s largest intercollegiate pitch competition for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Three teams – each consisting of one student – will represent the Crestview Hills, Ky. school at the contest on March 2 in Louisville. The students are Colin Wilmhoff, Enrique Aceves Pizarro and Tyshaun Thomas. Company ideas range from a transportation app to a way to make it easier to access nutritious food.

Aceves Pizarro, for example, created E1EVATE, a system that uses artificial intelligence to generate a personalized tutoring experience.

Tyshaun Thomas

“[The student’s] journey to this point is a testament to their innovative ideas, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Jeni Al Bahrani, founding director of Thomas More’s relatively new Zembrodt Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

“Being part of this select group underscores their potential to transform industries and their ability to contribute to Kentucky’s growing reputation as a hub for entrepreneurship.”

How they landed in Louisville

The Collegiate Pitch Competition is an annual showcase for the entrepreneurial minds at colleges and universities across the commonwealth. It’s operated by the Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs, an independent nonprofit focused on supporting students at various levels.

In January, Thomas More announced GSE had selected it to host a Summer Startup session for high school students for the first time.

To get into GSE’s pitch competition, students submit business concepts at all stages of development. Participants can take part in one of two program tracks: Exploratory for early-stage ideas and Developed for companies closer to launch or already operational. Each of the Thomas More projects are in the Exploratory category.

Winners in each category win monetary prizes to serve as seed funding. Last year’s top finisher in the Developed track took home a check for $15,000. The winner of the Exploratory track received $5,000. Financial awards go to the runners up and third-place finishers in each category as well.

To qualify for the finals, students had to submit a detailed business model outlining the problems they’re addressing and how their concept solves it. The document has to convince the reader that the business is viable and could operate in the real world, Al Bahrani.

After that, the selected teams had to create 90-second promotional videos and prepare to make their pitch to a panel of judges during the event at the University of Louisville. There are 16 teams competing overall.

Cultivating socially conscious business minds

The companies created by the Thomas More trio vary in scale, approach and mission. One similarity between the three ideas is they’re all byproducts of Zembrodt Center programming in one way or another.

Founded in 2022, the center equips students from diverse fields of study with essential, real-world skills that empower them to succeed in any field they pursue. Through a mixture of mentorship and other services, the center’s staff and partners help students identify opportunities for innovation and starting a business. However, the primary goal is to teach them how to approach the world with a “creative, resourceful and entrepreneurial mindset,” Al Bahrani said.

The future home of the Zembrodt Center and several other Thomas More programs, departments.

Thomas credited the center with helping him refine his transportation optimization app, All the Goods. His mentors helped him change how he looked at things, making him a better problem solver in and out of the classroom, he said.

“The process has increased confidence in my business choices and in chasing all my dreams,” Thomas said.

Wilmhoff’s company ACE aims to make healthy, environmentally friendly foods more affordable and accessible. The support of the Zembrodt Center taught him to recognize possible flaws in his business plan and “pivot” when necessary, Wilmhoff said.

“With my idea, there aren’t a lot of blueprints from similar businesses to follow, so a lot of it must be done by me,” he said.

Colin Wilmhoff won an on-campus pitch competition last year.

Wilmhoff turned that feedback into a third-prize finish and $500 in seed funding during the Zembrodt Center’s on-campus pitch competition hosted by Fifth Third Bank in October. 

“The program has put me in touch with so many important people in terms of my business and schooling,” he continued. “I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in starting their own business.”

Having teams reach the finals in the school’s first attempt at qualifying is a “significant milestone, Al Bahrani said. She invited the Thomas More community to support the students. Not only this weekend, but also afterward as they continue working to turn their dreams into a reality.

 “It has been inspiring to see them pursue their startup dreams,” she said.

Kentucky’s Collegiate Pitch Competition

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