GRCC student takes 1st place in MWest Challenge

Grand Rapids Community College student Heidi Garland won first place in the MWest Challenge student venture competition in the Innovation Showcase Pitch Round. 

Garland pitched her idea for Bugs B Gone, a startup to create an all-natural bedbug and flea solution. Garland won $1,500 for her first-place Innovation Showcase Pitch for a business that would take care of home pest solutions without chemicals.

Through MWest Challenge, students can develop and grow new ventures based on their own ideas. This year, 108 student teams from nine West Michigan colleges and universities competed for $12,000. GRCC led the way with 65 of the 108 student team. The next-closest college had 10 student teams apply for the competition. The competition also includes opportunities for students to network with investors.

“This experience meant an opportunity to have designated funding to use going forward and patent my product recipe — as well as having an opportunity to communicate with actual investors and learn from their words of advice,” Garland said. “I won a cash prize of $1,500 that will go directly back into my business for growth. I will be using this money to get patent information before going on to look at things like mass production or selling the product to someone else for production. I was also put in front of ‘angel’ investors who could reach out to me at any point with interest in my idea — not to mention the guidance I received from the judges and my professors.”

Garland got involved in the competition through classes with professor Felix Pereiro, head of the Business Department, and adjunct instructor Brent Alles.

Pereiro was impressed as he watched Garland handle some technical difficulties with audio during her virtual pitch to the judges.

“Heidi kept her composure and maintained her patience,” Pereiro said. “She was asked to return and be the last presenter because of the technical problems she encountered delivering her pitch. Most people would have quit — but not Heidi. She believed in her idea and was not going to let a technical glitch stand in her way.”

GRCC student Michael Powell placed in the top eight teams, earning a spot in the competition’s finalist level. He presented his idea for the Start Small Promo, an exclusive social media marketing and bookmarking website that caters to small businesses and is fused with a promotional service provided by the website.

“I gained confidence in my own vision of life, and what I think I can do,” Powell said. “The reward of trying something that takes you outside of your comfort zone is immense in life, and I think that more people should try it because of the perspective it gives a person.”

Powell, who was a frontline worker at a senior care facility during the pandemic, said he understands the challenges his idea works to address because his family lost their business during COVID-19.

“Michael faced tremendous adversity and challenges in the last month as he prepared to present to the panel of judges,” Pereiro said. “The judges were beyond impressed with him. They marveled at his tenacity, ‘stick-to-itiveness’ and courage. He has true grit, character, and an entrepreneur’s spirit and drive that will help him succeed at anything he puts his mind to now and in the future.”

Three other GRCC students competed in the showcase idea pitch round: 

  • Jared Seng placed ninth place with Landscape Match, a startup and app that allows consumers to post an ad looking for mowing and plowing services, and connect with businesses and independent contractors.
  • Kerry Johnson placed tenth with Johnson Equestrian and Critter Farm, an equestrian center and animal petting farm.
  • Alexandria Viveen placed thirteenth with Wavy Cravings, a startup to deliver restaurant food to customers while they are boating.

The students’ MWest achievements are the culmination of hours of practice and preparation, Pereiro said. 

“Heidi, Michael, Jared, Kerry, and Alexandria put in the hours necessary to compete against the very best college students in West Michigan – facing juniors, seniors and MBA students from top four-year universities in West Michigan — and their work and dedication paid off,” he said.

GRCC was scheduled to host this year’s MWest Challenge before the competition moved completely online because of COVID-19. Pereiro said the campus will instead host the 2022 MWest Challenge.

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