Alvernia University’s O’Pake Institute SPARK Business Incubator client OCOA, a curly hair care company in Reading, Pa. owned by Cory Varona-Corniel and Nicol Varona-Cancelmo, won the $10,000 prize at the tecBRIDGE Business Plan Competition awards ceremony at the F.M. Kirby Center for Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. on Thursday, April 27.
“This win and having three finalists at the tecBRIDGE Business Plan Competition is a testament to Alvernia & O’Pake’s mission to drive economic development and entrepreneurship while facilitating student experiential learning opportunities,” said Alvernia Vice President of Research Economic Development & Innovation and Chief Operating Officer of the O’Pake Institute, Dr. Rodney S. Ridley Sr. “The entrepreneurs and students get to learn alongside each other while making critical strides in their journey and I am grateful to be able to see that transformation unfold.”
Early-stage entrepreneurs compete in the non-collegiate division and student teams from the region’s colleges and universities compete in the Collegiate Division. Competitors are responsible for deliverables in four areas including an executive summary, competitor analysis, proforma financials and a pitch deck which they presented on April 13. Industry expert judges then evaluate the presentations ahead of the awards ceremony where the winners receive $10,000 and $100,000 in in-kind services to grow their business.
“It feels really amazing to be the winner of the tecBRIDGE Business Plan Competition,” said Varona-Corniel. “Seeing all of the hard work paying off, the hours of practice, mentorship, and having so many people encourage us to get to the finish line is an amazing feeling for us.”
The pair explained that the O’Pake team identified them as an ideal candidate for the competition, encouraged them to apply and coached them through the whole process. OCOA, formerly DN Organics also earned microgrant funding through O’Pake.
“We worked closely with [Conway] and she helped us review our business plan, presentation and other additional documents required,” said Varona-Cancelmo. “She also helped us practice and polish our pitch. We are so grateful to Michelle and the entire O’Pake team for the opportunity and for believing in our mission.”
In addition to OCOA, the O’Pake Insititute’s SPARK Business Incubator had another non-collegiate finalist, Dr. Kryn McClain, owner of CatapalloVR, and a collegiate finalist, Logan Minford, Alvernia student entrepreneur and owner of Wooden Chair Coffee Company. Students in the O’Pake Fellows Program helped each team prep for their pitch alongside expert staff members.
“I am overjoyed to see that the countless hours that Cory and Nicol spent crafting their business plan with the O’Pake team and practicing their pitch pay off,” said Director of Student and Client Services, Alvernia’s O’Pake Institute, Michelle Conway, MBA. “This win is a testament to O’Pake’s mission to assist entrepreneurs in Greater Berks County and we are so proud of all three of our collegiate and non-collegiate contestants for competing.”