Imagine a one-stop animal care facility that provides veterinary, grooming, boarding, training and rescuing services for all animal species.

PennWest Clarion senior pre-veterinarian major Gage Gray won $3,000 with his idea for such a facility – called Animal Buddy Care – during the 6th annual Student BizPitch Competition Nov. 15. The experience and prize money will be applied toward fulfilling a lifelong dream.

“Ever since I was able to talk, I have said I want to be a veterinarian,” Gray said. “This passion for animals and the drive to be a vet had encouraged me to one day open my own clinic. As I moved through middle school and high school, the motivation to become a veterinarian and one day open my own clinic had become much stronger.”

Due to the pandemic, Gray’s freshman year at Clarion was completed online. He remembers an assignment to present a slideshow of his future career goals.

“While going through the logistics of what I really wanted to do with my own clinic and what I wanted to offer, I came up with a very large project to treat any animal for any problem they may have,” Gray said. “Over the years, this plan developed into ‘Animal Buddy Care.’ ABC is more than just a veterinary clinic. It is a service to treat any animal for any problem, A through Z.”

Although Gray had the idea for ABC and the passion to make it a reality, he didn’t have the business knowledge to get it off the ground.

“After working closely with the (PennWest Clarion) Small Business Development Center – specifically Hailee Liptak and Cindy Nellis – I was able to make the idea look more like reality. Honestly, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish what I did without the help of Hailee and Cindy,” Gray said. “I am beyond grateful for all the knowledge I gained from this competition and for the opportunities this provides me with for the future.”  

In its sixth year, BizPitch is open to part-time and full-time students at PennWest Clarion. Students develop and deliver an effective, professional business pitch presenting an innovative and marketable business concept that is both technically and economically feasible and profitable.

After Gray graduates from PennWest Clarion in 2024, he plans to take a gap year before moving on to four years of vet school.

“Most veterinarians who open their own practice start by working at another clinic, so I will start there with my career. Once I have built up enough experience, I plan to begin the making of ABC,” Gray said.

As for the prize money, he plans to use it for the business.

“Since my business will not begin for quite some time, I would like to put a portion of my winnings into my savings, and I would like to invest the other portion,” Gray said. “By splitting up the prize money, I am able to save it and ultimately have a larger amount to use when starting my business.” 

 Second place winner Samurah Curry is a senior communications major. For BizPitch, she developed B.E.Y.O.N.D the Art Foundation, a nonprofit that provides community art classes for ages 5 and older.

“The B.E.Y.O.N.D the Art Foundation will allow kids to have a creative outlet that is missing in society,” Curry said. “The arts are constantly being defunded in schools, and art colleges have steadily been shutting down over the years. Some kids love art, but one day they put down their paintbrush and never pick it up again because they don't have a program to help them grow their art skills.”

Curry’s goal is to foster a love for the arts. The target demographic will be elementary and high school children, but she wants to include art classes for older students, including college, young adults and middle-aged people. The program will offer creative kids something they’re missing: A place they can call their own.

She was inspired to meet this need for the community while babysitting during her high school years.

“I started teaching kids how to draw and paint to pass the time. I noticed the kids had a real interest in it, but they didn’t have any resources to help them develop the necessary skills,” Curry said.

At this year’s Autumn Leaf Festival, one of the kids that Curry teaches set up a booth to sell artwork.

“I bought some of the pins and prints they had, and they thanked me for starting them on their art journey,” she said. “The (B.E.Y.O.N.D the Art) organization stems from that core moment. When the BizPitch competition came around, I knew it was time for me to take my idea to the next level.”

Her $2,000 prize will be added to a start-up fund for B.E.Y.O.N.D the Art Foundation.

After graduating from PennWest, Curry plans to attend Seton Hall University in New Jersey for her master’s degree in communication, with a focus in public relations. As she completes her graduate degree, she will do research and networking to enable her to launch B.E.Y.O.N.D the Art.

Third place winner is Giovanni Catalone, a senior environmental biology major, for his business idea, “The Pot of Gold,” a flower pot and an app that will monitor the health of a plant so it will be easier to take care of. He received a $1,000 prize.

“The idea for the Pot of Gold came over a span of three years,” Catalone said.

 He has been interested in entering the competition for a couple of years, but it took time to develop ideas and determine which ones had potential.

“I came up with several ideas, with the Pot of Gold being the best,” he said. “I went on to further flesh out and develop this idea.”

After graduation, Catalone will work as an aquatic biologist, and he plans to further develop the Pot of Gold, including making prototypes.

The $250 Fan Favorite prize, which is decided by the audience, was awarded to juniors Mackenzie Schwerzler, a marketing major, and PJ Wheaton, an accounting major, for Alt. Creations.

Schwerzler and Wheaton said they came up with the idea for Alt. Creations through their love of cooking. Alt. Creations is a service that makes home-cooked meals for college students.

“Students all across Clarion complain about the lack of (dining) options in the area, with most being fast food,” Schwerzler said.

They created the business specifically for the competition, but they knew the model would fill a hole in the area, Wheaton noted. They will split the prize and use it for various expenses.

After graduating, Schwerzler, who is an intern with the SBDC, plans to open her own event-planning business to work with nonprofit organizations and hospitals.

Wheaton, who is in the Air Force Reserves, plans to acquire his certified public accountant and certified financial planner credentials and work for an accounting firm.