Penn State Lehigh Valley hosts inaugural LaunchBox Ladies Pitch Competition

Five entrepreneurs chosen from a pool of 18 applicants to put their best pitch forward to a panel of judges

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — An Allentown-based entrepreneur captured the top prize in the inaugural Penn State Lehigh Valley (PSU-LV) LaunchBox Ladies’ Women in Business Pitch Competition, held on June 28 at PSU-LV’s Center Valley campus.

Latoya Hutchinson of Wicksquisite Candles was named the winner of the top prize of $2,500. Her newly formed company offers creative, one-of-a-kind candles customized to the customers’ preferences.

“Our mission is to ignite joy in the lives of our customers by crafting unique candle designs that reflect their individuality and desires,” said Hutchinson. “We believe that happiness is the essential ingredient that enhances every aspect of life, and we strive to infuse our candles with this magical essence.”

Janear Hankerson, owner of Dr. Jay’s Comedy Milieu, was runner-up, claiming the $1,500 prize. Hankerson creates, produces and performs original trivia and game shows, and teaches an original professional development course for teachers, called “Stand-Up and Improv for Teachers!”

Hankerson is a long-time comedy writer, educator and game show host from Easton, Pennsylvania, who focuses on the impact of combining comedy and education in the classroom.

Selected from a pool of 18 applicants, five finalists put their best pitch forward to a panel of judges that included Carol Obando-Derstine, a design supervisor in the Data Governance group at PPL; Dr. Vasu Singh of Family Medicine in Bethlehem and UPMC Health Plan, and Sally Handlon, founder of Handlon Business Resources LLC.

Rounding out the top five were:

  • Habiba Diaby, Nkasso — A restaurant located in Allentown, Nkasso specializes in West African dishes such as fufu, jollof rice, attieke, Suya and bissap, as well as dishes like crepes, samosas and chawarma.
  • Ramona Harris, Trinity Senior Solutions — Harris assists seniors with all aspects of Medicare — explaining each plan, signing up, and finding supplemental plans that work best for their needs.
  • Christina Oyola, That Day Company — Oyola’s business connects female first responders and service members of all generations to for the purposes of networking, fellowship, mentoring, and more.

The goal of the pitch competition was to celebrate and support female entrepreneurship in the greater Lehigh Valley.

“Women-owned businesses still lag behind men, coming in at 40% compared to 60% of startups created by men,” said PSU-LV Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson. “There are challenges to being a woman business owner — most noteworthy among them are equal access to financing, regulations and sufficient family support. The good news is there is a growing support and resource network for these trailblazers, including women’s angel investment groups, women-focused investment firms and gender-smart impact investing.”

“LaunchBox Ladies helps female business owners get to their next level,” said its director, Cindy Evans. “We provide an environment for women founders to overcome network barriers and attract more investment capital to support innovation.”

For more information on the full range of our programs and services, visit the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox site.