Do you need to reduce stress by organizing your time? Or perhaps you’re craving a non-alcoholic drink? Or you’re keen on supporting college aspirations?

If so, this year’s winners of the Bobcat Ventures pitch competition have you covered.

Hosted in Commons on April 6 and judged by three Bates alumni entrepreneurs, the annual student pitch competition featured 11 student teams for the morning-long competition, which concluded with three winners collecting $15,000 in prize money.

This year’s first place winner was Aidan Stark-Chessa ’26 of Falmouth, Maine, who was awarded $8,000 for Honeysuckle, a cocktail alternative during a boom time for non-alcoholic drinks

“I have to tell you, the horsepower that Bates students pitch with and present is just second to none,” said judge Ben Schippers ’04, co-founder of HappyFunCorp, a software design and engineering firm. “I mean, it’s really incredible.”

Schippers was on the ground floor of the program when it began in 2015. The pitches get stronger by the year, he said, and choosing winners “gets harder and harder and harder and harder. It’s really been this transformation, the arc from when we started all the way to now. It’s an incredible trajectory to see.”

Bates students competed in Bobcat Ventures on April 6, presenting in front of alumni entrepreneurs for cash prizes for their business ideas. The top prize of $8,000 was won by Aidan Stark-Chessa for his non-alcoholic drink, HoneySuckle. Stark-Chessa poses with his check and his product, HoneySuckle.
Aidan Stark-Chessa ’26 poses with his check and his product, Honeysuckle. (Carly Philpott ’27 for Bates College)

More than a one-day wonder, Bobcat Ventures runs for most of the academic year, offering training, coaching, and mentoring programs that lead up to an annual pitch competition. Organized by the Center for Purposeful Work with the help of alumni, faculty, and staff, this program helps teams refine their ideas and prepare for both the springtime competition and the real world. 

For the first time in several years, Bobcat Ventures added a road show this year, traveling to the Boston area to meet with the Bates Boston Business Network, a regional group dedicated to hosting dynamic gatherings for area alumni and parents. 

On March 29, the BBBN hosted a practice pitch session for several of the entrepreneurs. Around 50 alumni and parents attended the event, held at the Cambridge Innovation Center, hearing pitches and providing feedback to the students. 

Second prize ($4,000) went to Tanvir Thamid ’26 of Dhaka, Bangladesh, for Edbridge Scholars, a program supporting South Asian students’ college aspirations. 

Third prize ($3,000) went to Thomas Davis ‘27 of Marblehead, Mass., with Chunk (It)!, a time management platform.

Joining Schippers as judges were Pranav Ghai ’93, co-founder of CalcBench, a financial data platform, and Carine Warsawski ’07, founder of Trybal Gatherings, offering classic and out-of-the-box Jewish summer camp experiences for young adults and their friends. 

Here’s a look at this year’s winners:

Honeysuckle: Crafting Alcohol Alternatives

Aidan Stark-Chessa ’26 of Falmouth, Maine, heads to the front of the room after being announced as the Bobcat Ventures winner for Honeysuckle, a non-alcoholic cocktail alternative.

Founders: Aidan Stark-Chessa ’26 and partner and friend Seamus Woodruff, a Bowdoin student

Concept: Honeysuckle offers a refreshing alternative to alcoholic beverages, prioritizing flavor and affordability without compromising on taste or experience.

Stark-Chessa’s experience in the restaurant business includes a gig as a bartender in training at the trendy Portland restaurant Street and Co.

“I love eating food and drinking and just experiencing flavor in all sorts of ways,” he said in his winning pitch. “But I wanted an alternative to alcohol because I don’t always love how that makes me feel.”

Enter Honeysuckle, and an answer to the quest for great flavor minus the alcohol. “I use ginger juice and lemon juice. I make my own bitters out of gentian root and a sort of proprietary cocktail shrub, like a pickled fruit-juice, to create a sort of signature mouth-feel of complexity.”

Key Features:

  • Complex Flavor Profiles: Using ingredients like ginger juice, lemon juice, and homemade bitters, Honeysuckle creates a sophisticated taste reminiscent of cocktails.
  • Affordability: Honeysuckle aims to be competitively priced.
  • Local Distribution: Initially focusing on sales through local cafes and coffee shops, Honeysuckle emphasizes community engagement and support.

Stark-Chessa explains why Honeysuckle meets a consumer need: “Many of you probably have felt the adverse effects of alcohol on your sleep. It shows here that having even as much as one glass of alcohol can reduce your sleep quality by 10 percent and that is a lot and that adds up, especially if you’re trying to be active throughout your life. So we’ve tried to create an alternative.”

Next Steps: Honeysuckle is in the process of food testing and hopes to launch its product into local cafes and eateries in the near future. 

Edbridge Scholars: Empowering Student Success

Bates students competed in Bobcat Ventures on April 6, presenting in front of alumni entrepreneurs for cash prizes for their business ideas. The top prize of $8,000 was won by Aidan Stark-Chessa for his non-alcoholic drink, HoneySuckle. Tanvir Thamid '26 poses with the judges and his $4,000 check for his idea, Edbridge Scholars.
Tanvir Thamid ’26 poses with the judges and his second-place check for his idea, Edbridge Scholars (Carly Philpott ’27 for Bates College)

Founder: Tanvir Thamid ‘26

Concept: From first-hand experience, Thamid understands what it takes for an international student to attend a top college in the U.S., and his new resource Edbridge Scholars aims to provide comprehensive support for international students who wish to attend college in the U.S., particularly those from low-income backgrounds.

Key Features:

  • One-on-One Mentorship: Edbridge Scholars connects students with guidance counselors who offer personalized mentoring and support.
  • Extended Support: Students receive guidance not only during the application process but also for up to 18 months to enhance their extracurricular activities and overall candidacy.
  • Affordability: Targeting affordability, Edbridge Scholars keeps costs low for both students and mentors, ensuring accessibility to those who need it most.
  • Accessible Resources: Recognizing the limited access many students have to resources, particularly in countries like Bangladesh, Edbridge Scholars aims to bridge this gap and get clients into their dream schools.

Thamid explains why Edbridge Scholars meets a consumer need: “I come from a public school myself, and am also a lower middle-income student myself. The challenges that I faced when I was applying abroad was that there weren’t college guidance counselors available, and it’s true for over 90 percent of the public schools in Bangladesh. There is limited access to resources.”

Next Steps: In the most recent application cycle, Edbrige Scholars successfully helped students gain admission to colleges such as Lehigh, Cal Tech, and Amherst. With hopes to employ more tutors, and thus take on more clients, Edbridge Scholars aspires to provide more equitable access to college guidance resources. 

Chunk (It)!: Enhancing Time Management

Bates students competed in Bobcat Ventures on April 6, presenting in front of alumni entrepreneurs for cash prizes for their business ideas. The top prize of $8,000 was won by Aidan Stark-Chessa for his non-alcoholic drink, HoneySuckle. Thomas Davis poses with the judges and his third-place $3,000 check for his idea Chunk(it)!
Thomas Davis poses with the judges and his third-place check for his idea Chunk(it)! (Carly Philpott ’27 for Bates College)

Founders: Thomas Davis ’27 and two partners, Kaden Cassidy and Andy Nguyen

Concept: Founded by Thomas Davis ’27 of Marblehead, Mass., Chunk (It)! is a web application designed to revolutionize time management for students. Davis and his partners discovered that uncertainty about daily schedules was a significant source of stress for many people. To combat this, they developed Chunk (It)!, which helps users plan and predict — or “chunk” — their day effectively.

Key Features:

  • Customizable Planning: Tailored to individual users, Chunk (It)! offers personalized scheduling and time-saving techniques with the help of AI.
  • Healthy Sleep Schedule: The app includes features to promote a balanced sleep routine, recognizing the crucial link between sleep and mental well-being. It calculates the time needed to accomplish entered tasks, and creates a sleep routine accordingly.
  • Break Planning: Recognizing the importance of breaks, Chunk (It)! schedules in time for rest and relaxation depending on how many breaks the user requests, as well as their tasks at hand. 
  • Mental Health Focus: Developed with mental health in mind, the app aims to alleviate stress and promote overall well-being. 

Davis explains why Chunk (It)! meets a consumer need: “Andy, Kaden, and I found that we are actually most stressed when we don’t know what to expect from our days. More than two to five adults report that when they’re stressed, they feel like they can’t accomplish anything at all. Something needs to give, and we’re convinced that time management is the solution.

“It’s been well documented that an increase in predictability and control actually decreases stress. Chunk (It!) gives students more predictable schedules that they can control, without having to employ cumbersome time management techniques. By increasing predictability we are decreasing stress.”

Next Steps: Chunk (It)! plans to run a trial program at a high school in the 2024–25 academic year in Massachusetts, with hopes to expand its outreach.

The 2024 Bobcat Ventures winners show their winning checks alongside the judges, friends, and classmates. (Carly Philpott ’27 for Bates College)