Erica Marshall wins Great Dames 2018 Remarkable Ideas Competition

While completing a fellowship at the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Alexandria, Virginia, attorney Erica Marshall learned about disparities in federal case outcomes. “Black men are likely to receive a sentence that is 20 percent longer than the sentences for their white counterparts—and that’s after controlling for the crime they committed, as well as their criminal background,” said Marshall, who is currently the Campaign for Smart Justice manager at ACLU of Delaware.

To help defense attorneys better advocate for their clients, Marshall in 2017 founded Defendant Data Solutions. The company provides reports that detail the sentencing of people nationwide who have similar criminal histories and committed similar federal crimes. The reports also note discrepancies.

Marshall’s determination to create a fairer criminal justice system impressed the judges of Great Dames 2018 Remarkable Ideas Competition III. At the awards ceremony on Nov. 5 at Harry’s Savoy Ballroom in North Wilmington, Marshall received nearly $30,000 in cash and services. “I was very excited, humbled and just really grateful to Great Dames,” she said.

Great Dames is an organization that helps women meet professional and personal goals through a conversation series, peer advisory groups, mentorship and events. The pitch competition, open to female entrepreneurs, this year focused on ideas in health and wellness, safety and security, education and youth.

Great Dames held two workshops prior to the pitch event. The first helped women turn ideas into reality. The second focused on building and delivering an effective pitch. A total of 200 event both events said Sharon Kelly Hake, the CEO of Great Dames.

Out of 32 applicants, Marshall was one of six invited to deliver a five-minute pitch before the judges and an audience of about 150. The finalists had to wait until the Nov. 5 event to learn the winner.

“These women saw big opportunities in the big issues that our society is facing,” Hake told the audience of more than 150 on Nov. 5. “Every single one of their ideas addresses a huge need in our society, in our world and in our communities. We are so proud of them. As far as we’re concerned every single one of them is a remarkable winner.”

All six finalists will be paired with a business mentor. As the winner, Marshall receives a $5,000 seed grant, a gift from Continental Jewelers and one-on-one coaching sessions with experts on a variety of topics, including marketing, presentation skills and resiliency. She also receives a one-year membership to The Mill, a coworking space, a one-year membership to a small peer advisory group of women, and free attendance for a year to NAWBO Delaware events. She’s been invited to join the Great Dames Circle, which includes activities, a Meetup group and discounted offerings.

This year, the competition also included a teen element. Ten finalists were selected by the local Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and TeenSHARP, which helps low-income, black, and Latino students access top colleges. The teens—five from each organization—gave one-minute pitches at the Nov. 5 event.

After a brief deliberation, judges awarded the first prize to Dorcas Olatunji, whose business idea, T^2 (Transforming Transportation), addresses mobility. Teens have “ideas and time, but the one thing we don’t have is the ability to get around,” Olatunji explained. T^2 is an Uber-like service for high school students involved in after-school programs. “In the future, it will revolutionize before- and after-school transportation,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long awarded the certificates and prizes to the competitors, who received standing ovations. Those who did not win still gained invaluable experience, she said.

“Often, we learn best when we fail,” said Hall-Long, who lost the first time she ran for office. “Tonight, some of you won’t be selected, but you made it this far. Look at the glasses of water on the table. Are they half full or half empty? I hope as Great Dames and remarkable women that you see them as half full.”

Hake said Great Dames will follow-up with all the finalists to offer support. For more information on the organization, visit great-dames.com.

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