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Purpose Pitch Competition Fuels Innovation for Social Good

A woman in a magenta shirt pitches her business to an audience
Senior Valerie Sanchez pitches her company, Tequihua Self Defense, to the audience. (Picture credit: Devsen Datha Mukkamala | Coleman Center student ambassador)
A self-defense company focused on empowering women that is led by a current DePaul student. A business rooted in the West Side of Chicago and led by a DePaul alumna that empowers nonprofits to make decisions through data analysis. 

These are the two businesses that emerged as the winners of the 2024 Purpose Pitch competition, held on Thursday, May 23. 

Run by DePaul University’s Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, the annual competition convenes founders of purpose-driven businesses in Chicago to compete for prize money – and connect with one another in the process. Participants are all students or alumni of DePaul.

The eight finalist teams were selected from a pool of over 25 applicants. Teams competed in two categories: one for current students and the other for alumni. Each team had just three minutes to pitch their business, with an additional three minutes set aside for questions from a panel of expert judges. Each finalist team earned an award — ranging from $1,000 for the fourth-place winners to $6,000 for the first-place winners. 

All told, the judges handed out $26,000 over the course of the night – much of it donated by Coleman center board member, entrepreneur and competition judge Allen Kutchins (MS ’75). The Entrepreneur and Family Business Council also sponsored the competition.

What I love about Purpose Pitch is that our competitors embody so much of what is exciting about entrepreneurship at DePaul,” says Coleman center program manager Kathia Hernandez (BUS ’22). “They represent communities from across Chicago. And they’re eager to succeed by giving back to those communities.”  

The winner in the student division was already a familiar face in the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center. Valerie Sanchez, a senior studying public relations, participated in the center’s Social Impact Incubator program in January. 

My company, Tequihua Self Defense, is dedicated to empowering women everywhere through martial arts,” said Sanchez, herself an accomplished mixed martial artist. “We’re self-defense for women, created by a woman.”  

Tequihua Self Defense launched this March, and it is not Sanchez’s first foray into entrepreneurship. She is also the founder of Yummy Bites, a meal prep solution tailored to athletes. 

A woman in bright pink pants pitches her business from a stage
Mercedes Picket (BUS '14) won the competition's alumni division. (Picture credit: Devsen Datha Mukkamala | Coleman Center student ambassador)
Alumni division winner Mercedes Pickett (BUS ’14) is another serial entrepreneur. She won for her latest venture: ER Data Solutions, a data analysis tool for nonprofits that she launched in early 2023. Her history as an entrepreneur stretches back to 2016, when she founded Earth’s Remedies: a nonprofit that connects West Side families, small businesses and community centers to vital resources. 

Earth’s Remedies, Pickett said in one interview, was inspired by her own experiences growing up on the West Side. 

“I want to let the community know that there are way more than a chosen few,” she says. “If we continue to pour resources into these low-income communities, these disenfranchised communities, we can become what our community needs.”

All told, the competition was a testament to the power of community. 

“What’s exciting about Purpose Pitch,” says Bruce Leech, Executive Director of the Coleman Entrepreneurship Center, “is that so many of our community members come out to support these entrepreneurs. I’ve heard so many stories of entrepreneurs finding major funders and mentors in the audience at Purpose Pitch.” 

“Entrepreneurship isn’t something you can do on your own,” he adds. “And if we can give these founders connections and guidance as well as funding? Then we’ve done our job.” 

Two women hold up certificates against a black backdrop adorned with balloons
Sanchez and Pickett celebrate their win (Picture credit: Devsen Datha Mukkamala | Coleman Center student ambassador)

Want to catch the next round of pitches from up-and-coming entrepreneurs? Join the Coleman center on July 16 for Pitch Madness, which convenes top student entrepreneurs from universities across the Midwest. 

Sign up here: ​