Management senior earns $5,000 for her small business, Girls Love Lace
Aleah Gramblin, Management ’23, entered the Clemson Powers Business Pitch Competition in March of this year with a personal passion that has evolved into a small business that helps others in her community. A senior in her last semester as an undergraduate student at Clemson, Gramblin says she entered the competition for the experience.
She finished as the competition’s first-place winner, which came with a $5,000 prize.
A passion for help and understanding
Long before Clemson and the pitch competition, when Gramblin was a junior in high school, she began experiencing hair loss. Finding few local resources that could provide the style and lifestyle fit that she wanted, Gramblin went to work, earning her cosmetology license while still in high school and creating her own hair solutions. Along the way, she discovered she was not the only one who needed help.
“I learned that there were so many people going through things like me,” she explained. “I was doing this to help myself, but I saw people with the same needs, and it turned into helping others.”
In 2021, now a Clemson student in management with an emphasis in entrepreneurship, Gramblin opened her first Girls Love Lace salon in Easley, SC. She describes her small business as focusing primarily on the creation and facilitation of wigs, hair pieces and other solutions to help people in the hair loss community.
“It’s great that we can provide them with solutions and help with what they’re going through,” explained Gramblin. “We talk about what they need, and we create it.”
The pitch experience
The Clemson Powers Business Pitch Competition, hosted by the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business, progressed in three phases. In the first phase, competitors were divided into tracks – Comfort, Culture, Caring or Commerce – for an initial pitch to a panel of judges. Then, competitors participated in a trade show that gave judges and event attendees the opportunity to speak with each participant. Finally, the winners of each track made their final pitch to a larger panel of judges.
Gramblin focused on preparing her presentation, assembling her trade show materials, and practicing her pitch for at least an hour every day. She also presented her pitch in one of her entrepreneurship classes to get additional practice and feedback. She credits her entrepreneurship coursework with helping her to learn about elevator pitches and other business communication approaches as she honed her presentation.
“Win or lose, I really just wanted to try my best.”
Chad Navis, the Arthur M. Spiro Professor of Entrepreneurial Leadership at Clemson, helped to create the Clemson Powers Business competition and emphasized the benefits of this kind of event.
“Competitions like this provide enormous value to our students, helping them to develop their ideas, sharpen their storytelling and presentation skills, network with mentors and other professionals, and gain confidence in their ability to thrive in high-stakes environments,” said Navis.
During the competition’s trade show phase, Gramblin was encouraged to discover that a lot of people were interested in the business model she created. But, with one more phase to go, she didn’t yet realize that she had crafted the winning pitch.
Pitch competition award fuels future plans
Her passion and practice paid off as Gramblin placed first in the pitch competition. Along with bragging rights, she won $5,000 for her small business.
Gramblin, who at first didn’t realize that there was a significant monetary prize for the winner, plans to put the funds right back into Girls Love Lace to support initiatives like adding a low- or no-cost program for children with hair loss, expanded outreach and education for the hair loss community, and the creation of a non-profit organization, Girls Love Giving, that currently is accepting donations online.
“I am counting the days until May 11, when I graduate and this business will be full-time for me,” said Gramblin.
Her advice to other student entrepreneurs: everything is a process. Not all pitches are winners, but keep building and keep moving forward.
“There’s something about sticking it out that makes it all worthwhile.”
The Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership was the primary sponsor of the 2023 Clemson Powers Business Pitch Competition. Additional sponsors included NEXT Upstate, the South Carolina Research Authority, Peppino’s Pizza and Sully’s Steamers.
Clemson Powers Business
First Place: Aleah Gramblin, Management ‘23
Business concept: Girls Love Lace, a salon that provides wigs, hair pieces and other solutions for people experiencing medical hair loss.
“Make sure you’re developing your pitch deck and making time to practice.”
Second Place: Alex Teufel, Pre-Business ‘26
Business concept: Dropship NIL, a company that drop-ships athletic products directly from manufacturer to consumer.
“I had the opportunity to connect with peers, local CEOs and sales professionals.”
Third place: Majd Abdallah, Marketing ’24
Product concept: BakPak Buddy, a stuffed animal with the mission of promoting awareness of foster care.
“It was great to get some real experience in public speaking. Communication is everything.”