Safiya Grant makes her pitch to the judges at The Pitch in The Fox Club at Fox Cities Stadium. Students like Safiya who are entrepreneurship majors, study entrepreneurship in college, and earn a business and entrepreneurship degree.
Lawrence University senior Safiya Grant makes her business pitch to the judges during The Pitch in The Fox Club at Fox Cities Stadium. (Photos by Max Hermans)

Lawrence University senior Safiya Grant, a biology major from Jamaica, finished in the money in The Pitch, an annual shark-tank-style business startup competition for college students in northeast Wisconsin. Grant placed third as she pitched her idea for Muse, an all-natural skin-care line that features body care products targeted toward women of color.

The top three finishers split cash and in-kind prizes valued at $50,000. First place receives $10,000 plus in-kind prizes such as marketing and technology assists; second place $7,500 plus in-kind prizes; and third place $5,000 plus in-kind prizes.

Safiya Grant holds her trophy following The Pitch competition.
Senior Safiya Grant placed in the money at The Pitch following her win in the LU Launch competition.

Lawrence students have now placed in the money five times since the competition launched in 2017.

“I have always been interested in skin care and the business aspect of the skin care industry,” said Grant, who has been making her own DIY products since she was 12 years old and is now looking to launch it as a business. “Just the opportunity to be able to start this business is great. It’s always been on par with my goals for myself.”

The Pitch, held April 24 in The Fox Club at Fox Cities Stadium, is organized by Fox Connection, a collaboration of colleges and universities in the region that works to enhance entrepreneurial education and opportunity. This year’s competition featured students from Lawrence, St. Norbert College, UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, and UW-Stevens Point.

The 10 students competing were finalists from earlier competitions held at each school. They pitched their business startup ideas to a panel of judges and an audience of students, community members, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and investors. Each pitch had a four-minute time limit, with follow-up questions from the judges.

“I’m going to try starting a business, keep on the same track,” Grant said.

Grant has been taking classes within Lawrence’s interdisciplinary Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) program in preparation for launching Muse. She studied with Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science, professor of government, and chair of I&E, and more recently was in class with Karen Bussone, professor of practice in entrepreneurship. Irene Strohbeen ’78, entrepreneur-in-residence at Lawrence, and Isabella Sgriccia ’22 joined Bussone in mentoring Grant and Smith in the lead-up to The Pitch.

“They were so great and so helpful and necessary in the process of preparing me for this pitch,” Grant said. “They always had great insights. Taking classes in I&E really prepared me. My class with Professor Bussone last term helped me figure out what I need to have in a pitch, in a business plan. I don’t think I’d be here without the I&E program at Lawrence because they’ve been so helpful every step of the way.”

Bussone called Launch LU and The Pitch contests “valuable experiences” for students who aspire to start a business.

In addition to Grant, Lawrence was represented by junior Nathaniel Smith, a business & entrepreneurship and film studies double major. He pitched the startup Thrive in Humility, a Christian apparel brand that sells high-end clothing with built-in technology such as QR codes that take you to a website with information on featured events. Grant placed first and Smith second in Lawrence's LU Launch competition, held earlier in Spring Term.

“Our Innovation & Entrepreneurship curriculum provides the foundation students need to explore their passions,” Bussone said. “I’m incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to teach and coach students here at Lawrence University. Safiya and Nate worked very hard to unleash their innovative passions during the competitions. It has been an honor and privilege to work with them.”

Nathaniel Smith makes his pitch to judges during The Pitch.
Nathaniel Smith makes his business pitch to judges during The Pitch.

Grant said she was 12 years old when she started researching skin care options—body wash, lotions, oils.

“I started watching DIY videos and thought, this is so fun,” she said. “My skin was always really sensitive. So, when I’d use products, the popular brands at that time, it would irritate my skin, cause redness. I started making my own skin care products with natural ingredients like cocoa butter; it kind of just grew into something more.”

Those pursuits sparked her interest in biology. She came to Lawrence to major in biology with thoughts of studying dermatology in medical school. She has now shifted her focus to aesthetic nursing.

The Muse skin-care line will pair with that nicely, she said.