Earlier this week, the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund kicked off its accelerator grant program with a “pitch night” competition, which was hosted at SAP’s Innovator Lab in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards.
The YMA FSF is the “largest and oldest scholarship organization serving the needs of the fashion industry,” and has connected more than 65 partnership schools with 1.2 million in funding. Similar to a reality show, “Shark Tank,” four presenters, (who are all FSF alumni) pitched their nascent businesses on stage to a panel of judges, as well as an attending audience.
It marks the first event convening of all the stakeholders; be it mentors, sponsoring organizations (such as SAP, Macy’s and PVH) with FSF students, in one room. The four presenters are all applicants in the grant program, competing for the $50,000 award, which is underwritten by SAP. The contestants showcased a range of product category innovation and funding needs.
The FSF is still accepting applications until the grant program closes on April 30. Applications are then reviewed, and finalists will present to a panel of judges on June 12. One of the aims of the event was to build awareness of the program with other alums. The judging panel included Anushka Salinas, chief revenue officer of Rent the Runway; Laurel Pantin, fashion features director at InStyle; Meghan Cross Breeden, partner at Amplifyher Ventures; and Waris Ahluwalia, designer at House of Waris. Mary Alice Stephenson, founder of Glam4Good, moderated the event.
The competitors during the event all praised the FSF and its mentorship. Participant Jameel Mohammed, who is founder and chief executive office of luxury jewelry line Khiry, which is inspired by the African Diaspora, said the FSF has been “incredibly instrumental in my development thus far.”
Other competitors included Francesca Skwark, founder and ceo of Checka, an ath-leisure loungewear line, Nicholas Lee, cofounder of Arturo, a marketplace for global artisan goods, and Madalyn Manzeck, founder of Madalyn Joy Designs, a bespoke lingerie line based in Wisconsin.
FSF aims to procure and develop top student talent throughout their journey, and doing so with a nationwide footprint, providing undue opportunity to schools lacking connection to major fashion markets. “I don’t think kids always know, and I don’t think organizations always teach,” said Peter Arnold, the FSF’s new executive director, who joins FSF with executive leadership experience at the Council of Fashion Designers of America and Cushnie et Ochs, and prior Cynthia Rowley.
Joining FSF only four months ago, Arnold plans to build on the pitch night event to continue “connecting the dots” throughout the continuum for talented students and the fashion and tech companies — such as SAP — seeking their placement.