Branksome Hall News

Ambitious tree-planting venture takes grand prize in inaugural Noodle Pitch Competition

When entrepreneur and Noodle Pitch judge Jennifer COMMINS’93 was a student, her father gave her a copy of The Wealthy Barber and said ‘good luck.’ Fortunately for the eight student teams participating in Branksome Hall’s first-ever Noodle Pitch Competition, much richer guidance was at hand.
The team of Grade 11 students, and twins, Kaitlin and Lauren, walked away from the Nov. 4 grand finale, a Zoom webinar with close to 200 attendees, with $10,000 in seed money for their large-scale tree-planting venture, TreesCO2. The prize for their winning pitch to make their climate-conscious mark on the entrepreneurial landscape was made possible by Mary LESSLIE Hallward'74. 

The evening was the culmination of a 38-week program, the first of its kind in a Canadian school. Guided by niche experts and mentors, “Noodlers” had worked towards this moment, innovating on companies that offer sustainable solutions to real-world problems, with each five-minute pitch unrolled on social media in the lead-up to the competition.  

Having already planted 4,500 trees, TreesCO2’s goal is nothing less than 1,000 trees for every youth in the world, enlisting student ambassadors on planting trips and bridging the gap between conservation authorities and funding partners. 

“This is not just a business idea—it’s an important movement,” said judge Eva Lau, Branksome Hall board member and one of the few women leading a venture fund in Canada, Two Small Fish Ventures. 

The evening offered a master class in entrepreneurial insight and business acumen, on par with Dragon’s Den. Joining Commins and Lau was fellow judge Stacey BLIDNER Kline’01, co-founder and CEO of Otto Intelligence, as well as co-emcee Reza Satchu, founder and Managing Partner of Alignvest Management Corporation, founding chairman and co-chair of NEXT Canada, and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Business School. “Entrepreneurship is a muscle,” said Satchu in his opening remarks to co-emcee Principal Karen Jurjevich. “This is why it’s so important for high school students to start now.” 

Second and third-place prizes, valued at $1,000 and $400, were determined by audience vote. The criteria for the people’s choice awards and the grand prize judges included feasibility, originality and whether the team was coupling “profit with a purpose,” noted Michael Ianni-Palarchio, Director, Technology & Innovation. It was Ianni-Palarchio and Donn Pasiliao, Technology Experience Designer and Coordinator, who guided the teams throughout the Noodle program.

The subscription-based, sustainable cosmetics venture, Restore, led by Grade 12 students Kaja, Kayln and Kira, came second, with their idea to turn consumer-rejected, imperfect produce into fodder for skincare products. Third-place winners Grade 9 students Selma and Madee impressed the judges with The Speech Necklace, a speech amplification device that solves the issue of invasive, implant surgery. 

“With everyone wearing masks due to COVID-19, there are likely new competitors [in the speech-amplification space],” said Kline. “But with a new need you also have a broader market.”

Likewise, Lau suggested the Speech Necklace team consider doing a “friends and family round” of possible funding to get started with a prototype, “so potential investors can visualize the product and develop an emotional connection.” 

“These young entrepreneurs took ideas and turned them into companies,” said Ianni-Palarchio. “They took risks, made mistakes, learned from their mistakes, and evolved their companies. Especially during a pandemic, it was hard, but it’s been really inspiring to join them on this journey.” 

“The only thing more important than capital is mentorship and good judgement,” said Satchu, in his closing remarks. Judging by this opportunity and the high calibre of the pitches, every team in this competition walked away a winner.

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