A clothing company founded and run by Ithaca College senior Rita Bunatal took home the top prize at the third annual Ithaca College Business Plan Competition.
Malaika Apparel was awarded $20,000 for the first-place finish. It was also the winner of the $500 Audience Choice Award.
Bunatal is a Communication Management and Design major with a concentration in Corporate Communication and minors in African Diaspora Studies and Communication Studies. She created Malaika, which means “angel” in Swahili, to “deliver a message of empowerment for people of color and bridge the gap between Africans and those in the diaspora.”
Though born and raised in Texas, Bunatal relocated with her family to Ghana in 2008, where she attended high school. Her clothing line currently features several styles of shirts with designs symbolizing and celebrating black pride and empowerment.
“Our company functions as both an apparel brand and a form of social justice,” she says. “The brand promotes a sense of intersectionality — the study of the overlap of different social identities in relation to systems of oppression.”
With the $20,000 prize, Malaika plans to expand, with Bunatal continuing to serve as chief executive officer when she graduates in May.
“We are hoping to start ethical and sustainable partnerships with fashion designers on the continent to create designs that incorporate authentic pieces from the continent,” said Bunatal. “We are also working on shipping to Africa, Canada and the UK as our audience continues to expand transnationally.”
The second place finisher in the Business Plan Competition was FilmUp, an online connections and collaboration platform for students and professional filmmakers started by senior Aryeh Hoppenstein. FilmUp was awarded a $10,000 prize, which Hoppenstein says will be used to develop a beta version of the platform and begin customer trials. He says the company has already garnered interest from Ithaca College, the University of Miami and the University of California-Los Angeles.
Senior Brandon Esteves’s Sunshine Technology — which is developing processing pedals for guitars and other electronic instruments — came in third place and won $5,000.
“These pedals are unique because they enable the musician to change the parameter of sound in real time while playing,” said Esteves.
Esteves and his team built a prototype pedal for the competition using old parts, and plan to use the prize money to purchase tools and materials for further prototyping.
Three other plans that made it into the final round of the competition were awarded $500 honorable mention prizes. They include Q-POP, a traveling pop-up store that will feature clothing by and for the LGBTQ community; BrandLife Media, which offers brand management and support to online influencers; and Ken Act, which aims to develop assistance technology for visually impaired people.
For the winners of the competition, the prize money is not the only reward. They also gained increased confidence in their business plans.
“We’ve been working so tirelessly towards this business plan in hopes of trying to make something for ourselves,” said Hoppenstein. “To come in second place shows that we were recognized for our efforts in the sense that other people believe in what we’re doing.”
The Business Plan Competition is open to all current Ithaca College students and is free for anyone to enter. Students are eligible for mentoring and may elect to enroll in “Ideas Into Action,” a School of Business course designed to help students turn an idea into a viable business plan. Financial support for the competition is provided by alumnus J. Christopher Burch ’76.