Mason students participate in contest to promote entrepreneurship and innovation

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Mahesh Joshi
Mahesh P. Joshi, co-chair of the DC PitchFest, is founding director of Mason's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

Toavina Ratolojanahary, a George Mason University senior, wants to eventually own his own business. He has been exploring entrepreneurship since he graduated high school and tried to start a coffee roasting company. While that business failed, his entrepreneurial interest remained.

So when a professor suggested that students participate in the TiE DC chapter’s PitchFest, Ratolojanahary jumped at the opportunity. Ratolojanahary, along with three classmates from his senior design course, put together a pitch for traffic management of flying cars. So far, he’s enjoyed participating in the competition.

“This competition is different in that they have spent a lot of time teaching us about entrepreneurship as part of the process,” said Ratolojanahary, a systems engineering major. “It has been really useful and interesting because we learn how to think like an entrepreneur and what the entrepreneurship ecosystem looks like.”

TiE DC is part of an international organization, The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE). The TiE DC chapter’s region-wide pitch competition for university students, called PitchFest, is intended to promote entrepreneurship in the next generation.

Along with the competition, there are multiple opportunities during the process for mentoring, education, coaching and networking. The top ten teams were evaluated last week and will make their presentations on May 1. The top team will compete in a global competition on May 15. 

There are 43 area teams participating in PitchFest, with the most, nine, coming from Mason.

“We are very excited about how many Mason students decided to participate in the competition,” said Mahesh P. Joshi, co-chair of the DC PitchFest, associate professor of global strategy and entrepreneurship and founding director for the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Mason’s School of Business.

Joshi and co-chair Ravi Puli, a local entrepreneur, raised more than $30,000 for this year’s competition.

TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley in California by entrepreneurs and business people of Indian descent. TiE’s mission has expanded to fostering entrepreneurship through mentoring, networking, funding, education and incubation, and it has 62 chapters throughout the world.

The TiE DC chapter also has a boot camp for high school students during which they receive mentoring as they come up with business plans.

Joshi said that PitchFest is also a way for students interested in business to establish a network that includes venture capitalists and to learn to pitch ideas to any audience.

“This contest is a teaching tool even if you don’t become an entrepreneur or don’t want to become one,” said Joshi. “It helps you in whatever job you end up doing. You learn how to pitch your ideas to strangers and even a hostile audience. You learn how to sell your ideas.”

Egette Indelele, a senior majoring in psychology, said that participating in PitchFest has been a useful experience. Her group has proposed what they call Safe Have Space, an organization that would provide mental health services and education for high school and college students who are immigrants or refugees.

“Participating has helped me learn how to lead a team, and also how to pivot when something goes wrong,” said Indelele. “That’s really important to learn because when you are creating a business or a nonprofit, you may pivot again and again as you figure out what’s going to work.”