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B&E student pitches urban development idea in ‘Real’ Elevator Pitch Competition

Senior business management major Anthony Braxton is known for going first. Last year, he even stated he wants to be the first Mountaineer to end neighborhood violence and crime.

Anthony Braxton

And the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics student continues with high aspirations. Most recently, he competed as one of 12 finalists in the national “Real” Elevator Pitch Competition in St. Louis, Missouri, where he proposed an urban farm that will benefit economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to provide communities both healthy food and hope for the future.

“I’m from Pittsburgh originally, but I went to high school in South Charleston, West Virginia. Every time I go back to see family and friends in Pittsburgh, I notice there are a lot of people my age on the streets. I just think there has to be something positive, there has to be something better for them to do than waste their time and get involved in things that aren’t going to benefit them,” he said.

To feed his mind outside of the classroom, Braxton said he has been reading a good bit. One book in particular, which was about people trying to beautify their areas, spoke to him, and he began thinking of ways to help his own area – the Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, area.

“Buildings get torn down by the city.  That way people don’t go in and abuse them, so there are empty lots all over. The idea is to take vacant lots in cities and turn them into farm land and allow for at-risk youth to work these areas. They have a mentor, like a farmer, to show them how to do it, but also keep them out of trouble and make sure they’re doing well,” Braxton said. “They take the produce and use for it themselves; eventually, they are going to know how to can the foods, how to cook, and then they can sell the rest at farmers’ markets or restaurants.”

The student entrepreneur says it goes beyond learning how to grow your own food. He says one of the main staples is the mentorship aspect.

“It’s having somebody looking over you like a big brother or big sister. It’s somebody asking how you are doing at school, somebody there to guide you. And it’s about keeping kids on the straight and narrow. When you’re bored, kids sometimes get into reckless things,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the mentors I had, I wouldn’t be in college. I wouldn’t be here right now.”

Braxton learned about the competition through the WVU LaunchLab. He worked with the staff to develop a 30-second video pitch that landed him a finalist spot in the competition.

He also received direct support from the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is housed in B&E. Center staff members spent countless hours listening to and perfecting his pitch.

“Anthony was very well-prepared for the competition, and his idea is very multi-faceted in terms of health and wellness, but also innovation. It’s also very honorable and re-energizing for some urban areas,” Julia Bolt , assistant director of the BrickStreet Center, said.

“It was good to have two different perspectives on my business idea. I had the Launch Lab that was trying to foster startups and get everything going, and then I had Steve Cutright and Julia Bolt at the BrickStreet Center thinking along the lines of sustainability and how I was going to get this across to people to make them understand,” Braxton said. “Those relationships really helped me out.”

While he did not place in the final round of the ‘Real’ Elevator Pitch Competition, he says he took a lot away from the experience and believes the feedback he received will help him move forward with this entrepreneurial idea.

“We were able to meet 25-30 entrepreneurs in the St. Louis area. It was interesting to get their insights and make those connections. Even though I didn’t win, I still built these relationships. I have been in contact with a few people I met in the competition, and it is continuing to move forward,” he said. “It was a great experience to meet entrepreneurs, but also other like-minded people that are my age. The participants all talked before the competition, and we were bouncing ideas off each other. It was that collaborative effort that’s really exciting and is really encouraging. Learning from each other is a huge asset.”

Braxton will graduate in May 2017, and while he will continue to foster his entrepreneurship dreams, he will also build a career with the Target Corporation, a company whose commitment to community development he really admires.