Brush Ease wins first place at Bronco Pitch Competition

Contact: Abbie Griffith

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The 2024 Bronco Pitch Competition brought out the best business ideas from Western Michigan University students. A team of engineering students claimed first place with their concept Brush Ease, a retractable hairbrush that uses mechanical technology to better clean hair, remove skin cells and promote overall scalp health, bristled the competition. 

Paige DePatis of Kankakee, Illinois, Sophie Nguyen of Warren, Michigan, Bhairavi Patel of Battle Creek, Michigan, and Teh Ang Qi of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia developed the startup when Ang Qi joked about having messy hair on a hot day, and how a more innovative hairbrush on the market could elevate a person’s daily routine while providing a quick, effective grooming solution.

Brush Ease features a panel in the handle of the brush where the barrel expands and retracts from—keeping the bristles hidden in the base compartment ensures more cleanliness between uses because the brush is less exposed to outside elements. The brush is designed to be high quality and long lasting compared to its competitors which, in turn, will reduce the number of hairbrushes in landfills.

“To prepare for the pitch, we crafted a narrative that highlighted our product’s functionality and its eco-friendly benefit,” says Ang Qi. “We rehearsed extensively and refined our presentation based on feedback from audiences in our Entrepreneurial Engineering I: Cost and Financial Analysis class. This process was vital to enhancing our delivery and addressing questions about the business’s scalability, financial projections and competitive advantages.”

Between courses at Western’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and consulting with industry experts, the team members gained perspective and objectivity about their product and communicated what they had learned during the competition.

Nguyen adds, “Since our product is geared toward women, we had to make sure we thoroughly explained it since the audience and judges included men. With three of our team members being women, the problem was easy for us to understand, but I don’t think our pitch would’ve been as successful if we hadn’t seen it through the lens of someone else like Teh on our team.”

More research is needed before the team is ready to put their pitch into production. However, all members agree that the Bronco Pitch Competition is a worthwhile endeavor for any student interested in entrepreneurship. DePatis has this advice for others, “Definitely get involved with some business courses so you can use what you learn to grow your business. And create a business plan; that way you have a roadmap to building your business.”

2024 top teams

Prizes were awarded to the top three teams at the end of the competition. In addition to the first-place finish by Brush Ease, two other teams placed, including:

  • Mycup, an ecofriendly cup made from mycelium (the root structure of mushrooms) that is biodegradable, compostable and nontoxic, came in second place. Team members are Luke Borowski of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, Nathan Robinson of Bolingbrook, Illinois and Amelia Rodriguez of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

  • SafeDi, a vault and kiosk system that allows consumers to dispose of household hazardous waste like batteries, motor oil, paint and cleaning products via pick up and drop off from their home. Team members were Ross Briggs of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Nate Neubauer of Sterling, Illinois, Gerardo Simon of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and Jacob Verstraete of Grandville, Michigan.

About the competition

The annual event, held at the Haworth College of Business, provides a platform for WMU and high school area students to pitch their innovative business ideas to expert entrepreneurs. By competing, students can strengthen their entrepreneurial skills and advance their business concepts toward launching a profitable business. The competition is celebrating its 10th year.

Tamara Davis, instructor of management and director of WMU Haworth’s Starting Gate student business accelerator, organized this year’s competition—bringing together competitors, judges and guests for the event. “This event brought 23 teams from multiple disciplines throughout the University and area high schools to pitch their entrepreneurial concepts. It’s impressive to hear and see the innovative ideas presented.” 

Judges for the competition are sourced from WMU Haworth, local entrepreneurs and investors. Fritz Brown, partner at Treystar, Mike Howes, president of Preferred Plastics and Arwen Kimmell, founder of Insomnia Insights, comprised a panel of judges for the final round of the competition.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.