The results are in. Toward the end of the Spring 2022 semester, Blackstone LaunchPad at CSI hosted the Dolphin Tank Ideas Competition, an exciting contest in which students put their early-stage business ideas to the test, competing for cash prizes and an opportunity to receive expert feedback from the panel of Dolphin Tank judges. After going through and considering all of the well-thought-out ideas, the judges came to their decision, choosing four proposals that stood out from the rest. The finalists included CSI students Jaritzi Escamilla, Reham Ben Amor, Ayoon Amir, and the sister duo of Rhea and Renee Mendonca. Several of the finalists shared their ideas, motivations, and experiences in personal interviews.

Jaritzi Escamilla wowed the judges with her proposal for an “all-girls” gym. Escamilla’s idea came from “[wanting] to get in the habit of going to the gym and creating a healthier lifestyle.” Health was not all Escamilla had in mind while coming up with her idea, as she explained “the main focus and goal for this idea was to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere to empower women in the gym.” Escamilla and many of her friends have had “negative encounters” as they have worked out in the past, which has “held [her] back” in her goal of creating a healthier lifestyle. Blackstone LaunchPad has worked hand-in-hand with Escamilla, assisting her with advancing her idea: “I learned a lot of valuable information and feedback from my mentor, interviewees, and the process itself. There’s always room for an idea to grow.” Escamilla concluded with a tip for other aspiring entrepreneurs, “…never doubt yourself.”

Reham Ben Amor focused on interior design in her proposal. Her business is named “Chic Interiors,” and it “functions through a creative application that allows its users access to various resources to help them create a home that defines who they are.” Ben Amor’s love of personal expression through décor has been a major motivation behind her work: “Decorating and expressing my own home to bring out my personality within pieces of design is a very fun project for me to take on. This is what led me to come up with a business idea around the industry of design, specifically being interior design.” Ben Amor mentioned Blackstone LaunchPad’s own Mark Stroud, her macroeconomics professor, and Natalia Sandor, her mentor, as people who inspired her. Of Sandor she said, “learning tips and tricks from my mentor Natalia Sandor, through Blackstone LaunchPad, has been an amazing opportunity for me, as she is very smart and a great person to be one’s mentor in a competition like this.” Ben Amor left this experience excited to encourage others, saying “this is an opportunity everyone should take advantage of because you never know how far a small idea can go.”

The dynamic duo of Rhea and Renee Mendonca were also named finalists in the Dolphin Tank competition. These sisters came up with the Engua App, a means through which English Language Learner (ELL) students can thrive in English-dominant academic environments. Being immigrants themselves, the Mendonca sisters understand the struggles faced by students who come to the United States with a very limited grasp of the English language. They explain, “they felt isolated from everyone else and they needed more attention to feel a part of the learning.” In high school, the Mendoncas were in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and would help “tutor these ELL students after school and help them in homework.” They quickly realized that ELL students “grasp English better with 1-1 tutoring per their own pace.” The Mendoncas “channeled the pain and struggles of ELL students by coming up with this innovative app to tackle and solve the problems [they face].” Rhea and Renee were in need of an investment and Blackstone LaunchPad was able to give them “the kick start to make [their] Engua App a success.”

Finalist Ayoon Amir also impressed the judges with an idea for a finger-print coffee machine. This innovative design strives to assist coffee-lovers everywhere, providing a personal touch to their morning-brew experience.

These ideas went head-to-head in the final round of the competition when the judges, Professor Nancy Guo (Marketing),  Linda John (Information Technology), and Professor Simone Wegge (Economics), made their final deliberations. Each proposal was carefully considered, with the ultimate first-place prize being awarded to Jaritzi Escamilla for her exclusively female “Gym for Girls.” The Mendonca sisters followed closely behind, taking second place, with their app, “The Engua Experience.”  Finally, a third-place tie rounded out the field: Reham Ben Amor with “Chic Interiors,” and Ayoon Amir with “Fingerprint Coffee Machine” took those honors.

The many interesting proposals, the passion displayed by the winners, and the assistance provided by Blackstone LaunchPad at CSI made the Dolphin Tank Ideas Competition a resounding success. Dr. Susan Holak, the Founding Dean of the Lucille and Jay Chazanoff School of Business, which administers Blackstone LaunchPad at CSI, congratulated the students who won and thanked the Blackstone LaunchPad coordinators and staff, Professor Heidi Bertels, Professor Mark Stroud, and Natalia Sandor, for their work on the project and the mentoring that they provided to the students who participated.  “The Blackstone LaunchPad initiative is a great opportunity for all students to connect with creative thinkers and energetic faculty,” said Dr. Holak. “We wish all the participants and applicants good luck moving forward, and are eager to see them continue to participate in our events in the future. It is an exciting time for entrepreneurship at CSI!”

Do you think entrepreneurship may also be something for you? Join our growing network of student-entrepreneurs at Blackstone LaunchPad at CSI,, and sign up to stay up to date on all of our competitions and events.

Photo caption: From left to right, Jaritzi Escamilla, Reham Ben Amor, and Rhea and Renee Mendonca

By John Paul Hoey