Judging the YLAI Pitch Competition: A New Entrepreneurial Perspective

Last week I was fortunate enough to be 1 of 6 judges from the Charlotte entrepreneurial community to take part in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Charlotte Pitch Competition. In partnership with International House Charlotte, Meridian International Center, and the U.S. Department of State they’ve been hosting 9 incredible startup entrepreneurs (aka “Fellows”) from across Latin America. They started their trip in Atlanta before heading to Charlotte, and are currently finishing up in Washington D.C. before heading home.

We were asked to simply listen to each of them tell us about their business. They had 3 minutes to do so along with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. We were given a scoring rubric with which to judge them on, and we were also given 3 minutes for follow up questions. After they all went the judges deliberated and had to select the top 3. Afterwards the judges were given a certificate with “The title of Citizen Diplomat, in recognition of outstanding efforts in fostering cross cultural understanding.” Very cool, but the real takeaway was the education I received from this experience.

The creativity and resourcefulness shown by each of them was profoundly inspiring from an entrepreneurial perspective. The fact that they are building businesses with far less resources and infrastructure than we have here was mind blowing. Not to mention, their target markets aren’t as neatly defined or as accessible as they here either. Yet these people relentlessly march on, finding unique ways to monetize and scale their businesses despite the odds being against them. But what stuck out the most was their sheer passion for doing whatever they can to make their communities and countries a better place to live and work.

They knew all the buzz words and latest business trends, what business models work well, how to leverage social media and the internet to promote their business, etc. Even though each country has differing laws, tax structures, governmental support, and macroeconomic circumstances they all seemed to know how to play the game well in their respective countries too. It reinforced the fact that there is simply no excuse or justification for not doing whatever it takes to succeed in business.

I don’t mean to imply that these things are negative, on the contrary I think it presents a tremendous opportunity. The potential for further global growth is seemingly infinite, and the entrepreneurial spirit is spreading to every corner of the globe.

In case you’re interested in looking any of these entrepreneurial people and their businesses up (they would greatly appreciate any support, even if it’s simply offering feedback to help them improve) I’ve provided a list below.

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