By Rebecca Ojserkis ’12

Leading the Way: Last spring’s Amherst Innovation Pitch invited students to appear before three judges and propose ideas for business or nonprofit ventures. Winners received cash prizes and mentorship to implement their plans. Risalat Khan ’13 placed second with his pitch, “Creating the Nation-Builders of Tomorrow,” which focuses on social change in Bangladesh. Inspired by a one-month program in which he participated, Khan’s idea is to assemble the brightest adolescents from underprivileged Bangladeshi families and give them two years of “leadership training, access to educational opportunities and experience in solving community problems.” He says, “My country, Bangladesh, needs visionary leaders to overcome its many difficulties,” including poverty and corruption. His goal: to “create leaders who will be deeply rooted in their communities and country and who will be passionate to create change.” Khan won $350 in the Innovation Pitch, which was sponsored by the Amherst Association of Students and the Center for Community Engagement. He hopes to actualize his proposal after graduating. In the meantime, he is modifying it and is open to suggestions.

Laken (left) and Carlissa King

Real American Girls: The top prize of $500 went to collaborators and twin sisters Carlissa ’11 and Laken King ’11, who proposed “Elle & Cee,” a collection of affordable dolls reflecting a diverse array of ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. Laken describes their dream of an “empire of dolls” as “an empire of learning, awareness and empowerment.” The dolls’ individual personas and stories will “exemplify breaking boundaries [and] stereotypes and overcoming obstacles.” As Laken explains, the dolls’ characters “are not perfect, which in turn, makes them perfect for our young customers.” The idea was one of numerous entrepreneurial designs that the sisters conceived during high school. Thanks to the support and praise of the judges, who are all entrepreneurs in their own right, the Kings are now pursuing the development of Elle & Cee with the help of their mentors, and they are looking for investors. They might also join an entrepreneurial program, Sansori, in the upcoming year.    

Photo by Jessica Mestre '10