Two Queens residents win CUNY-wide entrepreneurial challenge

By Tom Momberg

Queensborough Community College hosted the City University of New York’s Capital One Bank Entrepreneurship Challenge finalists last week, when five students from three community colleges around the city vied for a $5,000 grant to help them get their business ideas started.

The first- and second-place winners of the contest, in which they pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of judges, were both Queens residents attending QCC.

Luc Vaval, a QCC marketing major and Hollis resident, won first place for his startup venture, iKonnectYou.

A social platform intended to link entrepreneurs and business owners with mentors, attorneys and investors, iConnectYou appealed to the judges as a great concept, though it might be a difficult one to set up so that it can hit the ground running.

Vaval was once himself an entrepreneur, having created a commercial web platform to bring inexpensive products sold in the United States to buyers in his home country of Haiti. Needless to say, the business became more difficult as trade and travel procedures became more strict.

But Vaval said he wished he had had the resources to help him continue his business in other ways, and now he is trying to establish a network of subscribers and and other professionals so that he can provide those kinds of resources to other entrepreneurs.

“I created business profiles on all kinds of sites, but I needed the guidance,” he said. “I would have paid for that guidance, so I’m providing that [outlet]. I would let professionals and investors on my website for free, because I need them on my website … It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Felipe Hoyos, a QCC marketing and finance major from Elmhurst, got a second-place prize of $3,000 for his restaurant-consulting business idea, Shepard A.

The Colombia native’s background in the New York restaurant industry led him to create a business idea based on the difficulty of juggling a business with possible random health inspections.

Hoyos said the restaurant industry is fairly cutthroat, and receiving anything but an A grade from the city Department of Health can mean the death of a business. To give restaurant owners a better chance of succeeding, the Shepard A business model is intended to guarantee restaurants they will pass inspection, help them train employees on proper sanitation procedures and products, and administer mock inspections – all for a flat-rate fee.

“As an immigrant, I am overjoyed to have this opportunity to pursue my dream of being an entrepreneur and inspire anybody to do the same,” Hoyos said.

Hoyos and Vaval competed against three other entrepreneurial finalists from Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn and Hostos Community College in the Bronx. All those who competed last week previously won challenges at their own respective CUNY schools and received smaller awards. Throughout the process, each of the finalists had partnered with New York City business professionals to mentor them through the developent of their business ideas and help them create appealing pitches for the judges.

The CUNY-wide entrepreneurial program was made possible with the financial help of Capital One and was spearheaded by an instructor in QCC’s business department, Dr. Christine Mooney.

The panel of judges consisted of Capital One business leaders and former contestants and winners on ABC’s entrepreneurial show, “Shark Tank.”

“Each of the entrepreneurs had a clear vision for their companies, their families and themselves. It was this unyielding vision that drove them to embark on their individual entrepreneurial journey,” said Capital One Bank Senior Vice President Sanddy Marchena, who sat on the four-judge panel.

Marchena said the choice between the five finalists was difficult, but the two contenders from Queens really stood out to the judges.

“I was able to relate to … Felipe’s sincerity and devotion to safe food preparation and handling,” he said. “And Luc really captivated the audience and (his) ability to connect with others is really remarkable.”

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