Anne Arundel Community College’s Entrepreneurial Studios Institute will be celebrating its 20th anniversary when it holds its next $100,000 Business Pitch Competition, a Shark Tank-styled contest that has funded almost $400,000 worth of prizes to more than 100 student winners, set for April 25.

To mark the occasion, Stephanie Goldenberg, academic chair, ESI, said “we’re amplifying our activities to our 400 Ratcliffe scholar program graduates, as well as its other students” who grew in various other directions.

Those hundreds of students who have completed the program completed six core courses to earn the 18-credit certification. They include the introduction; sales and marketing; management; accounting; legal; and new venture planning.

Part of the certificate program’s appeal is how easily it integrates into the regular requirements for an associate degree. “If someone is studying cybersecurity, photography, culinary health,” etc. said Goldenberg, “we work within every major. So we’re a great add-on to help students accomplish goals while starting a business, with the larger goal of supporting the local business base.”

The ESI arose from conversations between former AACC Professor Carlene Cassidy and the former dean Andy Meyer concerning “the need for better-rounded class offerings,” she said.

Around that time, Ratcliffe Foundation founders Philip Ratcliffe and wife Carole, who donated almost $25 million nationwide to similar scholarships and/or competitions, made a $1 million donation to AACC which, at that time, was the largest single gift to the college.

“About 25% of students who apply get the scholarship of up to $12,000,” said Cassidy, who in 2019 became CEO of the foundation, “because that’s the calculated cost of a two-year degree.” The curriculum also includes the requirement for an internship.

What Cassidy loves now, she said, “is seeing students we trained doing well. We keep in touch with them and use their businesses whenever possible. For instance, John Rosso (principal of Annapolis-based Rosso Commercial) found the Ratcliffe office space on West Street,” in Annapolis.

The ESI also has former students return “to mentor and even hire students” she said, “and some have also contributed to our efforts financially. It all comes full circle.”

Cassidy also credited AACC as a forerunner of the entrepreneurial education movement. “Twenty years ago, there were no textbooks on entrepreneurship. There may have been programs in about five places,” she said. “It just wasn’t a thing.

“Today, however, there are more than 20 books available and almost every college has a degree in this discipline,” said Cassidy. “Other colleges have followed our model before they set up their programs. AACC is recognized across the country as a leader.”

While Cassidy said she and Meyer may have kick started the ESI, she was quick to acknowledge how it “has become something exceptional under Goldenberg’s leadership.”

Goldenberg echoed Cassidy’s emphasis on the importance of keeping in touch with ESI’s grads. “We use their businesses whenever we can,” said. “We feel like we set them up well, so when we need a vendor at ESI, and sometimes even at the college, we look for them first.”

For instance, for the upcoming business pitch competition, ESI reached out to graduate Chow Inc., which is based on military veterans helping other vets acquire culinary skills and start food truck businesses.

Some of the alums are coming back to judge the competition, too. “Students don’t always understand how long-lasting” participating with the ESI is,” said Goldenberg. “For instance, we still reconnect to students when they celebrate their 10th anniversary.

“We’re still here,” she said, “and we don’t go away.”