“Our journey to the top starts at the bottom!”
That was the slogan of Bottom Feeders, winners of the 2018 BUILDFest Pitch Challenge at the Sheraton Boston Hotel Monday night. Bottom Feeders is a business launched and run by Joshua Ramgeet, Chief Executive Officer, and Katio Barbosa, Chief Financial Officer, ninth graders from Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Dorchester. The company makes an adhesive vinyl sheet that prevents unwanted objects from sticking to the bottom of your sneakers.
Bottom Feeders was one of three finalists among 37 BUILD ninth grade student businesses that competed in BUILD’s annual pitch competition. The event raised more than $650,000 for BUILD, a nonprofit that provides entrepreneurship education and experience as a way to increase graduation rates in under-resourced communities and to prepare the next generation for financial and professional success.
“In today’s uncertain times, it is more important now than ever that we promote and celebrate organizations that spread the message of diversity and inclusion,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who gave the opening remarks. “The BUILD program does just that. BUILD is creating a strong diverse workforce that will have a positive and long-lasting impact on Boston’s future workforce.”
In addition to the pitch competition, the event included a Student Business Expo where 40 student businesses pitched and sold their products to guests. Students sold more than 1,000 items to more than 250 shoppers, netting nearly $10,000 – all of which the students pocketed.
“Imagine what it must feel like at 14 years old to take an idea from concept to customer and to stand at the Student Business Expo selling your product as the CEO of a company that you created,” said Ayele Shakur, BUILD’s Executive Director. “That experience changes what’s possible in a young person’s life. In BUILD, we don’t just teach students how to build a business, we teach them how to build their lives.”
Nearly 600 people attended the 6th annual event, which celebrates the year’s accomplishments for 400 BUILD students. EY was the event’s presenting sponsor while more than 50 other companies sponsored student business teams and provided mentoring.
Bottom Feeders won a close competition, besting competitors Cultural Secrets Cookbook of Dearborn STEM Academy in Dorchester and Spice Kit of Excel High School in South Boston. For winning the pitch challenge, Bottom Feeders received $2,000 cash and a Startup Secrets workshop with Michael Skok of Underscore VC. All students on the final three teams were presented with a free laptop donated by Comcast.
During the school year, the Bottom Feeders students benefited from weekly sessions with their two mentors, Sally Rowland, Development & Programs Associate at SquashBusters, Inc., and Jameson Toole, Cofounder and CEO at Fritz. The student business was sponsored by fama PR and Viacom.
Dr. Tommy Chang, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools, and Jon Lang, Partner, EY, presented checks to the top three teams. The finalists pitched to a VIP panel that included Jane Steinmetz, Managing Principal of EY; Bob Davis, General Partner at Highland Capital Partners; Ivy Brown, President of the Northeast Region for UPS; and Katie Rae, CEO and Managing Partner of MIT’s The Engine.
Among the more than 40 products at the Expo were: Pet Delights, homemade pet treats for a person’s best friend, from Charlestown High School; Custom Coasters, coasters printed on a 3-D printer, from Madison Park High School, Roxbury; Spread the Love Pins, inspirational pins that showcase the causes you support, from Another Course to College, Hyde Park; and Thermoware, spoons that change with the temperature of your dish, from Community Academy of Science and Health, Dorchester.
Also honored at the event were:
- Catalina Ortiz Sierra of Charlestown High School, recipient of the Suffolk University Scholarship, a $20,000 award over four years provided by the Suffolk Entrepreneurship Center to a deserving BUILD senior pursuing a 4-year degree.
- Gandhy Ulysse of Community Academy of Science and Health, Dorchester, recipient of the Glass Family Scholarship, a $12,000 award over four years given each year to a student exemplifying the BUILD Spark Skills. The scholarship was established in honor of Jeffrey Glass, CEO and Founder of Hometap Equity Partners and founding Board Chair of BUILD Boston.
- Jeff Arnold, President and CEO of Arnold Strategies and Angel Investor, who won Mentor of the Year for his work with Double Charge, a 10th grade business and winners of the 2017 BUILDFest Pitch Challenge.
Since launching in 2011, BUILD Boston has incubated more than 150 student businesses. Click here for more highlights and photos of the event.