Elmira College Team Takes Third Place In Collegiate Pitch Competition

Elmira College students Mackenzie Brown ’26, Owen Mascaro '26, Michael Connor '26, and Victoria Behun '26, aka The Bioplastic Collective, believe they can create a better biodegradable and environmentally friendly straw than what is currently on the market. The group was a little surprised – but very pleased – when three judges agreed with their idea, awarding the team third place at the 607 Soaring Southern Tier Startup Collegiate Competition, organized by IncubatorWorks.

“When we heard our name called it felt cool because we were a team of first-year students,” said Brown. “That’s special because we get to know that the first time we went to do research with a new professor, it went somewhere. We can really put faith in the work we did.”

“It was nice to get third place,” said Conner. “We put a lot of work into the research and the competition. It’s nice to see the fruits of our labor.”

The event, held in May 2023, was styled after the popular show Shark Tank. Six EC teams and two teams from SUNY Corning Community College (CCC) pitched their business ideas to a panel of three judges, or ”investors.” For each team, the judges viewed a recorded presentation outlining the team’s business plan. The teams then answered questions from the judges about their creative ideas and market research.

“The judges asked well-thought-out questions,” said Mascaro. “I could tell they had business expertise. It was very nerve-racking, but also comforting as they know how to take our product to the next stage.”

As the third-place winners, The Bioplastic Collective team won $1,000. Another EC team, The 6 Hats, won the Viewer’s Choice award and $250. The second-place ($2,500) and first-place ($5,000) winners were teams from CCC.

The members of the Bioplastic Collective said they will invest at least some of their prize money into their research. While they are grateful for the money, what they appreciate more are the skills they learned.

The team members are all science majors, and they didn’t know much about business and entrepreneurship. They soon got a crash course in business basics, including writing a business plan and making a video pitch in Powerpoint. They received many insights from their business mentor, Robert Craig, the Market Development Manager at Corning Incorporated. Beyond his advice, he’s helping them network and invited them to tour Corning Incorporated in the near future.

“The competition was a really good opportunity,” said Brown. “Often students walk by the tables in the Campus Center and don’t think much about them. But we got a lot out of this.” She hopes other students will try things they wouldn’t typically think about.

“I learned that if you put yourself out there, there are lots of people willing to help you,” said Mascaro. “It makes me much more likely to reach out if I have a business plan for the future.”

"IncubatorWorks understands the importance of cultivating the entrepreneurial mindset within our young talent,” said Ashleigh Madison, Executive Director of IncubatorWorks. “By providing a platform of experiential, hands-on learning through the startup collegiate competition, 607 Soaring, we provide our college students with another tool for success in their endeavors post-graduation."

“All of the students deserve a lot of recognition for the hard work and energy they invested in making this a positive learning experience for all,” said Mariana Huber, Program Manager at IncubatorWorks. “I was inspired by their dedication, curiosity, and desire to learn new business-related concepts and ideas, and the creative thinking that they all demonstrated.”

Dr. Michael Selig, Elmira College Assistant Professor of Chemistry, served as the Bioplastic Collective team’s faculty advisor. He was working with the students on research into biodegradable materials when he learned about the competition and encouraged them to enter.

“I felt the competition was very informative and fun and was excited about their third-place finish,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for the students to think beyond the project right in front of them and translate their work towards a viable business opportunity.”

“I hope all of the students will consider joining the competition again next year,” said Huber.

“It's been an honor to be able to work with all the great representatives from the two participating colleges, students, planning committee members, our team at IncubatorWorks, and the three outstanding professionals on our judging panel,” she said. “This competition was a huge success in large part because of their passion for entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity.”

View the full pitch competition here.

Full list of Elmira College teams:
  • Fashionable Foundations

    • Teammates: Linda Avery ’25, Business Administration major; Will Mu Htoo ’24, Psychology and Criminal Justice double major; and Mihret Haile ’26, Nursing major

    • Pitch: A building material that combines textiles/clothing from landfills with concrete for use in construction that will reduce the amount of clothing waste in landfills.

    • Mentors: Dr. Jeffrey Alves, EC Instructor of Management, and Jennifer Burns, Director, Business Insight Center, the Central Library of Rochester & Monroe County

  • Bioplastic Collective (3rd Place)

    • Teammates: Victoria Behun ’26, Biochemistry major (unable to attend the competition due to travel); MacKenzie Brown ’26, Biochemistry major; Michael Conner ’26, Chemistry major; and Owen Mascaro ’26, Environmental Science major

    • Pitch: A biodegradable plastic straw that breaks down hours after use that doesn’t affect the flavor of the beverage.

    • Mentors: Dr. Michael Selig, EC Assistant Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. Robert Craig, Market Assessment Manager for Corning Incorporated

  • WoofPurradise

    • Teammates: Rediet Fekade '25, Biochemistry major; Het Patel '25, Business Administration major; and Syeda Neha Wajahat '25, Accounting major

    • Pitch: Create an App that has all of the pet-care needs in one place, including veterinary services and pet supply delivery services.

    • Mentors: Dr. Alexis Rittenberger, Assistant Professor, Director of Graduate and Professional Studies, and Dr. James Grochocinski (Jim Graw), Program Director, EnvironmentalTechnologies, of Corning Incorporated

  • The 6 Hats (Viewer’s Choice)

    • Teammates: Alessandro Lancia '26, Finance major; Daraab Khan '25, Psychology major; Marc Artuz '24, Psychology major; Pietro Gallina '25, Business Administration major; Henry Wylie '23, Business Administration major; and Horacio Vicioso '25, Business Administration major

    • Pitch: Acropolis, an entertainment location that offers advanced gaming and food, located close to a college in the Southern Tier.

    • Mentors: Dr. Jeffrey Alves, EC Instructor of Management and Barry Nicholson, local businessman and President of Barr Yann, Inc.

  • Holiday Nonstop

    • Teammates: David Lee '26, Fashion Marketing; Jazmine Elliott '26, Business Administration major; James Mehlek '24, Human Services major; Mackenzie Budine '26, Accounting major; and Mariyah Casados '26, Business Administration major

    • Pitch: A holiday decoration service that ships decorations to individuals and businesses and then the customers ship them back.

    • Mentors: Dr. Jeffrey Alves, EC Instructor of Management and Barry Nicholson, local businessman and President of Barr Yann, Inc.

  • Save The Children Now (STCN)

    • Teammates: Deanna Hathway '24, Business Administration and Legal Studies double major; Calli Vocke '23, Speech and Hearing major; Cassidy Ryan '24, Business Administration and Art double major; and Samantha Garry '25, Human Services major.

    • Pitch: A GPS chip called Indigo that is embedded in a bracelet for children that will help parents track their child’s location.

    • Mentors: Mark Abdalla, EC Assistant Professor of Finance, and Lee Jiang, Co-Founder & Chief Business Officer or Lo Bio and Entrepreneur in Residence at REV Ithaca

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