The second time’s a charm for sophomore business major Lenny Tran ’23, who won the 2021 Robert K. O’Brien ’58 Next Big Idea competition on Friday, April 23, for The Pablo Way, an online sneaker restoration business that he hopes to expand into a physical storefront to reach more customers. Tran also made it to the finals of the business pitch contest in 2020, but this year’s more complete presentation impressed the judges, who awarded him first prize and $2,500.
“I think I’m ready to be the talk of the city, because there is no other sneaker restoration in the city of Worcester,” said Tran confidently. Read more about The Pablo Way here. 
Second place and $1,000 went to David Echavarria for The Pleb Investor, a subscription-based social media information resource for the average investor. Third place and $500 went to Imani Hutchins for Wimagine, an affordable clothing line that allows women of all ages to “spend less than $100 and still feel like they bought top dollar clothing,” according to Hutchins.
The other two finalists were each awarded $250: Anthony Shrum, who proposed a comfortable line of clothing for hockey players called Grizzled Hockey; and Mustapha Dukuly, whose idea involved creating a technologically equipped study space for students in his home country of Liberia.
The finalists refined their business plans and presentations through Worcester State’s IDEA Accelerator, a semester-long program for students who want to validate their ideas and figure out if they are worth pursuing. Each finalist gave a three-minute presentation through a live Zoom conference call and then responded to questions from the judges: John Esler, founder of Esler Companies, and member of the advisory board for the Center for Entrepreneurship; Samantha Santiago ’04, vice president and head of claims strategy and automation at Farmers Insurance and a member of the Worcester State Foundation Board; and Brenden O’Brien, an educator and son of contest founder Robert K. O’Brien ’58. Steve Dorval, one of Worcester State’s two Entrepreneurs in Residence, moderated.
“I was certainly impressed by everyone. I spend my day in corporate America, so to be surrounded by awesome, young, entrepreneurs ready to ‘go get ‘em’ has truly inspired me,” said Santiago.
O’Brien, who has been a judge for the past several years, said all five presentations were worthy of support. “There is not one of you that I would say, ‘This is a bad idea, stop.’ Even the fifth-place presenters should keep on going. You all have great ideas,” he said.
Robert K. O’Brien founded the pitch contest in 2013 and funded it for the first five years as a way to inspire students to start entrepreneurial ventures and promote inventiveness. Currently the competition is funded through a gift from the Esler Family Foundation . The competition is one of several events offered by Worcester State’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which provides a variety of academic, co-curricular, and experiential learning opportunities for students from all majors to explore innovation and the entrepreneurial mindset. For more information and to explore available scholarships and venture funds, visit https://www.worcester.edu/Center-for-Entrepreneurship /.