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Catalyst incubator elevates student initiates

Marc Duebener
Five faculty and staff members provide funding to projects that need financial support. As Catalyst grows, funding would become more competitive.

The Catalyst, Grinnell College’s student-led idea incubator, held its first full-fledged launch this past Wednesday, April 24, featuring 10 student project presentations.   

The Catalyst functions primarily as an organization to connect community members with resources on campus for developing ideas. Jeffrey Blanchard, professor of mathematics and director of the Donald and Winifred Wilson Center for Innovation and Leadership, and Michael Lawrence, director of the Business and Finance Career Community collaborate to oversee the organization.  

This year, around 35 projects were brought to the Catalyst. Katie Babb `26, a student mentor, said, “In a nutshell, we host open hours, we ask the questions, and teach you pitching skills and the skills you need to not only make your idea a reality but take it beyond, towards applications to your future.”  

Sophia Ford `25, a student coordinator, said that students at the Catalyst were told in spring 2023 to “launch and go” before they built themselves, which has been the primary focus of these past two semesters.“The fair is the product of all the rebranding that came this past fall. We were solely a business incubator then, but we have now expanded to accept multitudes of ideas,” she said.  

Parikshit Roychowdhury `26, a student coordinator, added, “One thing we often say is that we will work with any idea. This is hard to grasp because we don’t know what ‘any idea’ means, but the fair is meant to showcase a variety of ideas that have been imagined and actualized by students.” He added.

Ford said that she describes the Catalyst as a sister to the Stew Makerspace. “Think of us as the Makerspace, but for ideas. We’re two peas in a pod with how we serve students’ needs. They [students] have ideas they want to develop, and we have the resources and curriculum to make them a tangible reality,” she said.  

Amongst the 10 projects featured, 4 pitched and received funding through the Catalyst Fund.  

Emmy Potter `24, president of the Grinnell Health Advocacy and Mentorship Program (GHAMP) initiated the organization with a passion for helping students navigate barriers and issues in accessing healthcare in college. In collaboration with Vice President Anu Sanumi `26, Treasurer David Stefanoff `24, and Secretary Hope Harrington `24, the group turned to the Catalyst for mentorship in launching their newly formed program.  

Through the Catalyst Fund, GHAMP became the first initiative to receive funding, which was used for educational seminars, projects, and resource offerings. Every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., members table outside of the Dining Hall to answer questions and promote upcoming events.  

From left: Grinnell Health Advocacy and Mentorship Program (GHAMP) founders Hope Harrington `24, David Stefanoff `24, Emmy Potter `24 and Anu Sanami `26 presented their project last Wednesday, April 24th. (Marc Duebener)

Sophia Ramalli `27 leads the Rocket Team, a community on campus where people gain real-world experience in developing rockets and participating in competitions. The Catalyst helped Ramalli develop and write a proposal and pitches for funding for two projects, a wind tunnel project and a beginner’s rocket project. During the fall semester, Ramalli reached out to other students involved in STEM majors to join the team. She said they are hoping to recruit more people across the academic divisions to incorporate multiple perspectives.  

Lily Piede `26 had the idea for IX, an educational app on Title IX regulations on Grinnell’s campus, at InnovateGC, a week-long challenge sponsored by the Wilson Center. She teamed up with Kaycie Brookens `26, Jinny Eo `26, and Candice Lu `26, and their pitch won the competition. Eo and Lu brought the idea to the Catalyst, developing the technology further, and are currently looking for a student mentor.  

Lu now works as a student mentor for the Catalyst, after having participated in a few Wilson Center Events. “It’s empowering that the Catalyst allows students to think big, while still considering stakeholders involved and the methods behind our madness,” Lu said.  

Blanchard said he anticipates that the Catalyst will only continue to grow into its second year. He said, “What the students have accomplished this year has far exceeded what I believe would have happened in the first year.”  

The Catalyst hosts open mentor hours every Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Humanities and Social Studies Center (HSSC) A2240. They are available by email at  

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About the Contributors
Zoe Zappas
Zoe Zappas, Staff Writer
Zoe is a first year intended gender, women’s and sexuality studies and Spanish double major. Originally a Clevelander, she fell down the Ohio to California pipeline and is now labeled a fake midwesterner. She is a lover of sesame bagels, stalking your spotify, playing the dance like an appliance game, and raising her eyebrow at everything.
Marc Duebener
Marc Duebener, Staff Photographer
Marc Duebener is a first-year chemistry and economics major with a concentration in science, medicine and society. He says he is from Chicago, Illinois but really lives in the suburbs. On campus you can find Marc shooting sporting events and documentaries, studying in Noyce, or hitting the gym.
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