NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15:  Nina Garcia attends ELLE Impact Awards sponsored by SheaMoisture on March 15, 2018 in New York City.  (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for ELLE)

“This is like a smaller version of ‘Shark Tank’ — it’s like ‘Minnow Tank,’” exclaimed author and actress Jill Kargman of the 2018 Impact Awards luncheon held Thursday afternoon in New York.

The third annual event was cohosted by Elle, SheaMoisture and Inco, a global accelerator for social and green startups, and showcased four female entrepreneurs each endeavoring to make a social or environmental impact.

“To put it simply, today is a celebration of women who are bettering our world with profound business initiatives,” said Elle editor in chief Nina Garcia to the crowd gathered in a sun-splashed room at the 1 Hotel Central Park.

As guests enjoyed a family-style offering, the afternoon’s four finalists presented their business models — in a format much like “Shark Tank” — to a panel of judges (including Kargman and Garcia) with the winner receiving a cash prize and the chance to vie for a global prize against 11 other women at the larger Impact² awards in Paris at the end of the month.

The group of finalists Thursday included Lisa Curtis, Ashley Edwards, Tinia Pina and Danya Sherman. Curtis, who this year was ranked on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs list, founded a brand of powdered supplements and nutrition bars called Kuli Kuli. Her products are made from a relatively obscure superfood called moringa that she sources from West Africa and South America.

“I discovered [moringa] when I was volunteering with the Peace Corps in Niger,” explained the Californian. “We’re hoping that in five years it will be just as common as açai, quinoa or chia.”

Curtis’ products are in over 6,000 stores throughout the U.S. Edwards, however, has a more localized mission with MindRight, the online platform she founded two years ago to provide mental health support and coaching to teenage students in Newark, N.J.

“It’s been a privilege to listen to kids’ stories of resilience,” explained the Stanford graduate. “I had been working in education in Newark and seeing how so many of my kids were overcoming traumatic events in their lives. There just wasn’t enough mental health support in the school system.”

Sherman, still an undergraduate student at The George Washington University, had a mission to help others with her company KnoNap after being drugged by a peer in a social setting while studying abroad in Spain. Founded last year, the company hopes to soon bring to production special napkins capable of detecting rape drug chemicals upon saturation.

“The issue [of being drugged and raped] can effect anyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” explained Sherman. “We’ve been working very hard to promote empowerment and as a college student I found that I’m the target audience of our product.”

Pina was inspired to create her company while working as an SAT test-prep teacher in Harlem. Seeing her students opting for fast food as opposed to healthier sources of nutrition inspired her to found Re-Nuble, a company that converts food waste into a sustainable fertilizer for the agriculture industry and benefits mostly urban hydroponic and soil farms.

“Having recognition in two industries — waste management and agriculture — where it’s primarily male-owned and operated really shows that it’s changing the dynamic that you see in those incumbent industries,” said the New York resident.

For her efforts, Pina was awarded the top prize of The Impact Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Garcia and Inco president and founder Nicolas Hazard. The entrepreneur will go on to this year’s Impact² dinner on March 29 at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris where she will once again compete against 11 similar candidates from around the world. The ultimate winner will also receive a cash prize along with an award from sponsor Chanel and professional support from Inco.

“It’s filled with about 2000 people who come from 50 countries,” said Hazard of the forthcoming event, which is hosted by the French government. “They’re investors, people working in politics and business, but who really want to change the world.”

Meanwhile, Edwards was selected for the SheaMoisture Community Commerce Emerging Entrepreneur Award and a $10,000 grant to be applied toward her MindRight digital platform work.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 15: Lisa Curtis, Ashley Edwards, Danya Sherman, and Tinia Pina attend ELLE Impact Awards sponsored by SheaMoisture on March 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for ELLE)

Lisa Curtis, Ashley Edwards, Danya Sherman and Tinia Pina.  Courtesy ELLE/Andrew Toth

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