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Q&A: Courtney Lorenz talks Make-A-Pitch, New Venture and entrepreneurship


Alumna, Make-a-Pitch winner, New Venture Competition winner and entrepreneur Courtney Lorenz is returning to CMU to judge the contests. (Courtesy Photo)

From student to successful business owner to Make-A-Pitch judge, Courtney Lorenz tells her story.

Lorenz is a Central Michigan University alumnus who has participated in and won both Make-A-Pitch and New Venture Competition.

She went on to create Un-Cork in 2013, a business offering more sustainable corks with better permeability and elasticity using a mixture of synthetic and oak corks.

After, Lorenz created Cultured Kombucha Company in 2015, a fermented tea brewery established in Traverse City with a focus on health and wellness.

The Ticker awarded Lorenz with two 40 Under 40 awards, and she is a Certified Culinarian for the American Culinary Federation and Great Lakes Culinary Institute’s Alumni of 2019. She was also a finalist for Traverse City Chamber's Hagerty Small Business of the Year award.

Lorenz was invited to come back to CMU to judge for the first time in the Make-A-Pitch competition after judging at New Venture Competition for three years. 

The experienced entrepreneur spoke with CM Life about her experience with Make-A-Pitch and New Venture Competition and her most awarded business.

What was it like pitching your project?

When I was a student at Central, we participated in the New Venture Competition. It was our second or third year of doing the competition, so we were invited to the Make-A-Pitch…we were actually the first team to pitch in the Make-A-Pitch competition to win and also win the full New Venture Competition. 

As a team, it was really interesting for us to kind of diversify our resources, decide who would be a good presenter who would really try to emotionally connect with the judges…That’s what started Un-Cork.

What’s it like coming back to CMU as a judge?

This will be my third time coming back and it’s been a different experience each time. I really enjoy giving the students a well-rounded perspective. Being a student that was competing and coming back as a judge has allowed me to see the feedback I was receiving, but also see the feedback I’m giving them to be as direct and helpful as possible.

Did you ever expect to be successful and to come back as a judge?

We went through a mindset that it was a really great learning opportunity and that we had a fantastic product that we were excited to share with the community, and by having that authenticity and brand, we had that much more power to really convey what we wanted to accomplish. I think the judges understood that...and saw our passion while we were pitching, and that was what really helped us round out and win the competition.

How did Cultured Kombucha get launched?

I had an interest in nutrition and wellness, and after working in the culinary industry and having experience with wine…and how food interacts with your body…we were able to finance a spin-off of Un-Cork with Cultured Kombucha. We’ve been out in the community to help them understand health and wellness in the product, so leading Cultured has been able to communicate how food can be a functional aspect in your everyday life. 

I think all of the experiences have kind of tied together in helping to make Cultured succeed. I don’t think I would have the same perspective on Cultured had I not experienced Un-Cork.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from competing?

The most valuable thing I learned from competing was probably learning from New Venture and the confidence that comes from that. When you’re able to get up there to pitch a product, you’re passionate about it and you truly believe in what you’re pitching, the confidence you can experience in yourself is fairly undeniable. It gives you a powerful position. When you take that, you can connect with judges and make an opportunity with New Venture. 

The reality of it is that if you win and you really do start up a thing, it can’t just be about luck or winning a competition. You have to have the background and the passion behind it to really be able to make it great. Some days are challenging, and the passion pushes you through those days that are really hectic.