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How the Manhattanville Auditing Program Has Benefitted One Local Entrepreneur

An independent entrepreneur with a promising new product, Gretchel Hill realized that gaining additional business insights could propel her feminine hygiene company to even greater heights. So this spring, the NYC-based inventor took advantage of the free classes offered to adult community members through Columbia’s Manhattanville Course Auditing program, trading the boardroom for the classroom, if only for a few hours a week.

Gretchel is a resident of the Grant Houses NYCHA complex. Grant Houses and Manhattanville Houses residents have 50 seats each semester in the Course Auditing/Lifelong learner program designated for them.

Gretchel recently shared how her Manhattanville Course Auditing experience improved her ability to relate to customers, boosted her technological proficiency, and gave her the tools to more effectively pitch products to potential investors. Excerpts from the interview follow.

How many classes have you taken through Columbia’s Manhattanville Course Auditing program?

I completed a Digital Product Innovation and Entrepreneurship course in the spring of 2023, and I’m taking the Findability, Semantic Modeling, and Computational Classification class this fall.

What initially inspired your return to the classroom?

A friend told me about the program, and when I looked at the available auditing classes I found quite a few courses related to AI. This inspired me because I'm in the ideation stage of creating apps related to the medical field and restaurant service. 

You previously earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Visual Arts. Has that background informed your work as an inventor and entrepreneur?

My journey attending the School of Visual Arts gave me the patience, discipline, and courage to become an entrepreneur and inventor. SVA taught me how to see a project through to the end, no matter how long it takes and how much work you have to put into it. 

You’ve developed a new sanitary pad that provides a comfortable fit with enhanced leak protection. How did the idea come to you, and what was the development process like?

I suffered for years with extremely heavy menstrual periods during that time of the month. I didn’t feel physically or emotionally safe and comfortable wearing today’s feminine hygiene pads. That’s why I created ForEver 3D Plus Trap-Cores®.

The development process has been a long, challenging, and expensive journey, and twenty-nine years working in the health insurance field helped me to bootstrap with acquiring patents, trademarks, consultant services, lawyers, etc.

Google and YouTube were my best friends and my assistants. I learned how to manufacture prototypes in my apartment, create technical, and design drawings utilizing Adobe Illustrator. I sourced raw materials from different suppliers and compared materials’ capabilities. I built relationships with converting and manufacturing companies, conducted trial testing surveys, and worked with the ladies to get feedback from wearing the product. The most challenging part is putting in the time to do the work and having the patience to get to that next level, because success doesn’t happen overnight.

How did the course you took at Columbia help you with that work?

The Digital Product Innovation and Entrepreneurship course at Columbia has given me more insight into building a website and PowerPoint presentation, learning customer personas, and entrepreneurship … [It’s also taught me] how to relate my product to customers, how to pitch my presentation to potential investors, and how to update my website to be more user friendly and engaging.

What would you suggest to a neighbor who is considering enrolling in the Manhattanville Course Auditing program?

I recommend applying and submitting the required documents to Columbia’s Auditing program early to avoid being placed on a waiting list, because you’re not guaranteed a spot for a class you’re interested in. I also recommend they look at previous classes offered through the program to get an idea of available courses.

You can access the library, shuttle bus, LinkedIn online training courses, free and discounted software — and the courses could add more value to your resume.


Learn more about Columbia University School of Professional Studies' community programs here.