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For CobraVenture Showcase Champ, Winnings Secondary to Growth

Published on Tuesday, December 1, 2020

For CobraVenture Showcase Champ, Winnings Secondary to Growth

Eliot Graham wins CobraVenture Pitch Showcase 2020

Armed with seed money from Parkland College to start his own business, Eliot Graham plans to turn your condo into a cozy haven.

And while Parkland's 2020 Student Entrepreneur of the Year appreciates this new opportunity to grow plants for what will soon be The Wood Violet LLC, it has been his own growth this fall through the school’s CobraVenture Program that he considers far more valuable.
 

"Winning was truly secondary to all the knowledge gained over the last few months," Graham said about Parkland's second-ever student startup cohort. "The greatest part of CobraVenture was that everyone that came in wanted to see us succeed. This community is focused on ensuring success of small businesses, and that was not only reassuring, but very heartwarming."

Parkland College held its 2020 CobraVenture Pitch Showcase on Nov. 16, which took place virtually for audiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic (judges and competitors were masked and socially distanced in the Student Union.) Having competed with six other Parkland students in his cohort during the event, Graham will soon receive the event’s top prize: $3,000 in seed money and $1,000 in monetary technology to start The Wood Violet.

Through the Wood Violet, Champaign resident Graham plans to bring the power of plants and plant-products to small-space areas, such as apartments and condos. His pitch centered on the reality that the home is transforming in the age of the pandemic, "serving as both residences, office spaces, classrooms, and staycation destinations." His new mobile gardening units will turn these spaces into what he calls "livable, comfortable, and functional sanctuaries."

Graham plans to graduate with his associate's degree in Horticulture and Landscape Design before continuing on to earn a bachelor's in business administration. He plans to use the prize money to establish The Wood Violet as a limited liability company, lease a small plot of land, and have his business up and running by spring 2022.

Judges for the pitch competition were Daniel Marker, President of Hickory Point Bank; Carly McCrory, Executive Director of the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation; Professor Julie Weishar, chair of Parkland's Fine and Applied Arts department; and Marissa Siero, Corporate Engagement and Programs Manager at the University of Illinois Gies College of Business.

The pitch contest highlighted students from the CobraVenture program's student accelerator lab, which launched in January 2020. The semester-long CobraVenture accelerator provides students with an avenue for networking and business mentorship. It features a collaborative workspace, topics taught by local serial entrepreneurs, and one-on-one guidance with business mentors. "Without a doubt, I enjoyed every presenter that came in and lectured," Graham said. "They provided thoughtful and in-depth detail of what would be our next or future steps for our businesses. That time and those talks proved to be invaluable."

While he waits to open his own business, Graham seems happy to promote those of his CobraVenture competitors. "I would encourage you to patronize the runner-up, Pawly's Pet Grooming in Mahomet!" he said. "Polly is a terrific person, and I am happy to have gone through CobraVenture with her. I have no doubt that you and your pet will be happy with her services."

CobraVenture is funded through existing funds from the Parkland Foundation Entrepreneurial Founders Program, Murray Wise Associates PEN Program, and those raised through its annual Entrepreneur of the Year event. Parkland Community Education, the college's noncredit arm, is helping to plan and administer the workshops. The program is operating with oversight from an advisory committee comprised of community leaders and Parkland College faculty and staff, spearheaded by Stephanie Stuart, Vice President for Communications and External Affairs.

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