GS Student Wins Best Speaker Award at Global Retail Challenge

Pralaya Cuomo, a ballet dancer majoring in sustainable development, was recently recognized for her public speaking talent with the Best Speaker Award at the Global Retail Challenge (GRC). Cuomo competed alongside four of her peers at this sustainable retail competition, presenting their project designed to make use of discarded furniture items titled Interlock-It.

January 06, 2020

After successfully completing Challenges of Sustainable Development, a Columbia course taught by Dr. Jason Wong that focuses on factors impacting sustainable development practices, Cuomo was invited to compete in the Global Retail Challenge.

“When Dr. Wong asked me to be part of the Global Retail Challenge team, I immediately and excitedly agreed to participate, because sustainable development is something I’m passionate about being actively involved in,” said Cuomo. “I also really liked the idea of being part of a team that would be collectively inventing and creating a product that could potentially transform an industry and solve real-world sustainability issues.”

The GRC is designed to tackle issues surrounding retail, sustainability and the circular economy—an economic system focused on eliminating waste and reusing resources.

Pralaya Cuomo pictured with Best Speaker Award

To prepare for the challenge, Cuomo and her peers spent eight weeks over the summer taking virtual courses and engaging with global retail executives. Throughout this process, the team developed Interlock-It, a project aimed at creating modular furniture products from discarded furniture items. 

Partnering with local sanitation departments, Interlock-It was designed to collect, evaluate, and create standardized modular pieces with eco-resin or by repurposing discarded items. With their mobile application, customers can build, design, and visualize their own pieces with multiple reconfiguration possibilities. 

As the project progressed, the team was invited to Montreal, Canada, to participate in the finals held at McGill University. The 2019 competition had over 38 teams registered from 23 universities in eight different countries, including Canada, France, Ghana, India, Japan, Portugal, Spain, and the United States.

The Interlock-It team was awarded third place, which included a cash prize and an invitation to an incubator program with the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Cuomo believes winning alongside her classmates to be a rewarding achievement and is looking forward to seeing the impact they may have on the furniture industry.

“I think our product can further empower consumers who often feel like they can’t make a significant difference in solving climate change issues, so we are excited to get to work in the RILA incubator program and hopefully make our company a reality,” said Cuomo. 

Pralaya has been an invaluable member of the team. In the final pitch presentation, she delivered a moving, genuine portrayal of the team’s potential client, clearly articulated the product’s unique features with a down-to-earth sense of humor, and demonstrated a deep knowledge of the team’s work.

Jason Wong

In addition to the team award, Cuomo was individually recognized for her talents, receiving the Best Speaker Award. This award was created in honor of Professor Richard Donovan, a distinguished teacher and scholar at the Desautels Faculty of Management, and recognizes an individual that exemplifies Professor Donovan’s authentic and moving storytelling skills.

“Pralaya has been an invaluable member of the team. In the final pitch presentation, she delivered a moving, genuine portrayal of the team’s potential client, clearly articulated the product’s unique features with a down-to-earth sense of humor, and demonstrated a deep knowledge of the team’s work. Her stage presence was friendly and confident, and her enthusiasm for the project was contagious,” said Dr. Jason Wong. 

After participating in the GRC, Cuomo’s decision to pursue a career directly involved with addressing sustainable development challenges has been solidified. 

“As a human being and consumer, I feel more hopeful after seeing climate change-induced social and environmental problems being addressed by a lot of companies in the retail industry, including the ones that sponsored or mentored  the challenge, who are already incorporating sustainable practices,” said Cuomo. 

Pralaya Cuomo presents at Global Retail Challenge