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Skidmore College

Jessica Ndrianasy ’20 wins 2019 Freirich Competition

April 8, 2019
by Lisa Haney and Sara Miga

Skidmore College held the final round of the ninth annual Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition April 5 in the Murray-Aikins Dining Hall.

Jessica Ndrianasy ’20 earned first prize — $20,000 cash plus $5,000 in business services — for her business Ndriana Agro, a Madagascar agribusiness providing top quality, organic produce and prioritizing the hiring of unemployed women. The company will sell crops such as rice, legumes and vegetables to high-end restaurants and hotels in Madagascar and export vanilla, essential oils and spices internationally. It aims to provide workers with modern farming training and education for their children. A percentage of the crop yield will also be for workers' own consumption.

Ndrianasy said she was inspired by her mother, who didn't go to college but was determined to send her children. "She was an entrepreneur — she bought her own land so she could provide for herself and go to school," Ndrianasy said. "After that she went to the city and started her own restaurant business to provide food for us and the family and pretty much everyone." Every summer, Ndrianasy and her five siblings would grow rice and vegetables on her mother's land. Her mother put her in charge of networking for the business.

"Jessica’s business idea was sparked by the lesson she learned from her mother about the importance of feeling a sense of community and being responsible for the welfare of the community," said Roy Rotheim, professor of economics and the coordinator of the competition. "Her business and business plan stood out from the rest — as did she." 

The winnings will be immediately useful. To launch her company, Ndrianasy has already used $1,500 of personal capital — saved from her student employment jobs at Skidmore — as a down payment for a mortgage to purchase 12.5 acres of land in Madagascar. She said she'll use the competition winnings to pay off the remaining $5,000 of the mortgage and to rent farm equipment and buy seeds so the company can start planting this summer. 

"Participating in the competition was one of the greatest learning opportunities that I’ve had at Skidmore," Ndrianasy said.

She credits working with her alumni mentors throughout the competition with helping her grow as an entrepreneur. "I had the vision at the beginning of the competition but I also knew I needed help in terms of how to be strategic," Ndrianasy says. "Now I’m more confident about how to do accounting for a business, what kind of plants to grow at certain times and how to price my products." Her mentors also helped her figure out details about how to help the community while also running the business.

"I found myself inspired by Jessica’s plan, as it showed a desire to marry an entrepreneurial spirit with philanthropy," said Molly Dyson-Schwery '04, one of Ndrianasy's alumni mentors. "Her drive to make a marked difference in her home country of Madagascar, and to do so at such a young age, and with such discipline, was incredibly admirable to me." 

"Jessica’s business plan is likely to succeed because of Jessica," Dyson-Schwery added. "She is tenacious, driven and resourceful."

Nancy Wekselbaum '73, who was also one of Ndrianasy's mentors, agreed. "I respected totally Jessica's iron-willed determination to launch this business whether she won the prize money or not," Wekselbaum said

Ndrianasy has already assembled a knowledgeable and connected management team in Madagascar and has five farm workers ready to start planting this summer. 

Jessica Ndrianasy '20 with Ken Freirich '90

Jessica Ndrianasy '20 with Ken Freirich '90

The “Shark Tank”-like Freirich business competition is one of the best-funded contests among liberal arts colleges nationally, with cash prizes and business service awards valued at more than $50,000. More than 350 students representing 225 businesses have entered the competition since 2010, when it was established by Skidmore alumnus Ken Freirich, a member of the Class of 1990.

“I am extremely proud of all the students, and I know that this experience will change many of their lives,” said Ken Freirich ’90, the competition founder.

In addition to Ndrianasy, the 2019 competition winners were:

Second place: 

Z’s (Izaak Cohen ’20): A lifestyle accessories brand.

Prize: $10,000 cash plus $5,000 in business services
Peer mentor: Paige Durrant '19
Alumni mentor: Matt Kavet ’94

Third place: 

Luce Threads (Lucy Beizer ’19): A clothing company which up-cycles used clothes/fabrics using screen printed graphics and natural dyes.

Prize: $5,000 cash plus $5,000 in business services
Peer mentor: Imara Joroff '19
Alumni mentor: Greg Rutchik ’87

Fourth place (tie): 

Bricoleur Atlanta (Nigel Smith ’19): An Atlanta-based and French-inspired clothing brand that offers high-quality pieces that are adaptable to many occasions and body types.

Peer mentor: Imara Joroff
Alumni mentor: Kathryn Peper ’78

TROT (Abigail Kaplan ’20): A set of sensors placed strategically on the horse via tack, these sensors use Bluetooth to connect to phone app to give guided riding lessons.

Peer mentor: Will Potter '19 (also Ndrianasy's peer mentor)
Alumni mentor: Elizabeth Kigin ’10
Prize: $2,500 cash each

The following businesses each received $1,000:

NZULÉ Soothing Blends (Ivy Asamoah ’19): An affordable natural skin care line created to enhance the well-being of men’s skin by providing both healing and soothing properties. 

Peer mentor: Imara Joroff
Alumni mentor: Tal Chitayat ’03

Radical Polo (Oliver Leung ’20): An all-in-one polo equipment bag designed to store, organize and protect a player’s polo belongings. 

Peer mentor: Paige Durrant '19
Alumni mentor: Gregg Smith ’92

Sanctuary Farm Brewing Co. (William Ward ’19): Offers craft beer made from locally sourced New York State ingredients on 250 acres of beautiful farm land. 

Peer mentor: Will Potter '19
Alumni mentor: Molly Dyson-Schwery ’04

Table 99 (Joseph Hernandez ’19): A fast-casual food company which prides itself on offering the freshest highest quality empanadas in New York City. 

Peer mentor: Paige Durrant '19
Alumni mentor: Nancy Wekselbaum ’73

Competition founder Ken Freirich was a student entrepreneur while at Skidmore, starting his first business as a sophomore, publishing a magazine for college students that was distributed on 35 college campuses in three states. Today he’s the CEO of Health Monitor Network, a thriving entrepreneurial company that has grown tenfold over the past 14 years.

The goal of the competition is to encourage Skidmore students to follow their passions with a transformational entrepreneurial experience that allows them to explore new interests and capabilities. In additional to providing winning teams with prizes of cash and in-kind services, the competition provides student entrepreneurs with the opportunity to improve their business idea through workshops, coaching, feedback and live practice sessions.

The competition begins each September with a call for entries and a series of business plan workshops to help students in all majors prepare for the semi-final presentations in late February. In this preliminary round of presentations, accomplished alumni entrepreneurs, business executives, investors and marketing experts select seven to nine teams as most promising, and then work with them as mentors through the competition’s final round, when a new panel of judges will pick the winners.

The judges for the 2019 final round were:

  • Kenneth A. Freirich ’90, competition founder and CEO of Health Monitor Network.
  • Raymond Bryan ’94, financial advisor for Janney Advisors.
  • L. Graeme Campbell ’98, managing director at Barrett Asset Management.
  • David Cynamon P’22, founder and executive chairman of K2 Pure Solutions.
  • Dana Naberezny ’95, vice president of the Jewelry Design and Innovation Workshop at Tiffany & Co.
  • Dexter Senft, retired investment banker.
  • Rich Wartel ’91, CEO and founder of Two Labs Pharma Services

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