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Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Two Foresters to pitch plan in esteemed competition

March 04, 2018
Linda Blaser

Not giving up has paid off for Karla Figueroa ’19 and Fatemeh Riahi ’19. The duo has been selected from applicants worldwide to pitch their idea—a collapsible barrel with a built-in filter to make contaminated water usable—in the esteemed Values and Ventures business plan competition at Texas Christian University.

The two, who met as transfer students during Orientation in Fall 2017, have already made arrangements to travel to Fort Worth, Texas to compete for $60,000 in cash and prizes during the two-day undergraduate competition, April 6–7.

“Getting through the preliminary round is going to be really hard, but we have such strong motivation to keep us going,” said Riahi, a biology major and chemistry minor.

Riahi and Figueroa hope their device, Nibipure, will provide a solution for disaster victims, in general, and the residents of Flint, Michigan, in particular, who have been unable to use their water for four years because of lead contamination.

To fix the problem, the two have designed a portable, cost-effective, weather-withstanding water barrel “that is efficient for everyday use,” Riahi said. The design includes an internal lead filter to make the water in Flint safe.

“This is the most exciting thing in the world,”  Figueroa said of being the first Foresters to compete at Values and Ventures.

The two salvaged their water barrel idea from a larger plan Figueroa conceived to reroof schools damaged by earthquakes in her birthplace, Buenavista de Cuellar in Guerrero, Mexico. When they got the word in February that their roofing plan grant application was denied, they regrouped. 

“That failure was a motivating factor to get this going,” Riahi said.

“We were looking for other ways to make a difference. Rain barrels were part of the original project, so we thought we could do something with that,” said Figueroa, a finance major and international relations minor.

Riahi learned of the upcoming Lake Forest Pitch It competition and the two decided to apply and attend the Pitch It Workshop on February 28—the same day the TCU applications were due.

“During our Pitch It Workshop, Karla and Sima were able to work with mentors to improve their initial product, narrow their target audience, and create a solid plan for growth,” said Patricia “Trish” Thomas, director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program that organizes Pitch It. She isn’t surprised two students in unrelated majors collaborated on a business project to help others.

“Lake Forest College is filled with entrepreneurs—people who find problems worth solving and mobilize the people and resources to solve them. Our Pitch It Competition is so much more than the chance to win $10,000 in prize money. Pitch It is designed to be a launchpad for our students to receive mentoring and assistance transforming their ideas into reality,” Thomas said. “Karla and Sima are both juniors, and I am thrilled to have another year to assist them in taking their product to market.”

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