Out of 150 applicants across the United States, recent Eastern Kentucky University graduate Rose Pidgorodetska was one of only 21 finalists in the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Student Entrepreneurship Program Pitch competition.
The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the U.S. and a leading advocate for women business owners and entrepreneurs. Its annual conference, held earlier this summer in Detroit, Michigan, is the largest conference for business women in the nation.
Pidgorodetska, a Mount Sterling native, first learned about the competition in Fall 2017 through Kristel Smith, executive director of Kentucky Innovation Network-Richmond, which is housed in the EKU Business and Technology Center. She decided to pitch her young jewelry and candle company, Simply Rose and Co. Pidgorodetska recalled that the initial application consisted of questions about the company and its vision, and a phone interview with two WBENC staff. Much to her surprise, she was given a spot in the competition.
“I could not believe it,” she said. “I knew I had a great product, but to have the opportunity to pitch my business to Fortune 500 executives was a huge accomplishment for me!”
Upon receiving the good news, Pidgorodetska ran immediately to the EKU faculty mentors who helped her perfect her pitch: Dr. Jim Gleason, associate professor of communication; Laura Barthel, lecturer in the Department of Accounting, Finance, and Information Systems; Dr. Lee Allison, assistant professor of marketing; and Dr. Tom Martin, assistant professor of management and executive director of the Center for Economic Development, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CEDET). Their help proved invaluable. “It was truly encouraging to get feedback from professors who have expertise in design, marketing or business planning,” Pidgorodetska said. “They gave me a new perspective to take into the competition.”
In addition, competition participants are assigned an alumni mentor, a mentor from a woman-owned business, and a corporate mentor. Fortunately for Pidgorodetska, she was assigned Ernst & Young as a corporate mentor. The Fortune 500 Company paid for Pidgorodetska’s airfare, meals, hotel, and conference costs. They also provided 12 of their top female executives from around the country to meet with her nightly, providing feedback on various aspects of her presentation.
In her pitch, Pidgorodetska focused on the candle side of her business. “My candles are unique because they are all-natural soy with essential oil, and cotton with a fresh petals and seeds to give them a unique look.”Those products are available on her website, www.simplyroseandco.com, as well as some retail boutiques in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina.
Pidgorodetska’s roots in entrepreneurship run deep. “I have been registered as a company for two and a half years, but have had an entrepreneurial spirit since my senior year of high school,” she said. The prestigious national competition was her “big break,” five years in the making. “It was an amazing blessing, and I had no idea what was about to come!”
Though Pidgorodetska did not emerge victorious from the final round, she gained valuable contacts and experiences that have set her up for success. “I gained many connections with women all across the country who are more than willing to sit down with me and provide practical advice on how I can grow my company,” she said.“To be a first-generation woman in business is truly an accomplishment in my eyes, and I cannot wait to see how my company takes off over the next few months.”
On her flight back to Kentucky from Detroit, Pidgorodetska pondered her goals and dreams. She is surer than ever that someday, she wants to start a nonprofit dedicated to mentoring young, female entrepreneurs like her. To her, a for-profit business and her nonprofit mission go hand in hand: “My business is not only a passion of mine, it's a platform to make a difference in the world, to encourage young women that they can be whomever they want to be.”
That encouragement is simply a way for Pidgorodetska, who was crowned Miss EKU in February 2017, to pay forward the incredible opportunities she has received. “I have received such rich encouragement throughout my life,” she reflected. “Many women have poured into me, so this is my chance to pour into other young women.”
-- by Madison Harris, Student Writer, EKU Communications & Brand Management