It wasn’t hopscotch and hula-hoops that intrigued Emma Claire Spring (’21) as a little girl growing up in Whitefish, Montana, it was playing “hotel.”

When her family had friends overnight, she’d imagine the guest bedroom was a hotel room and add her own touch of hospitality by spraying air freshener in the room and leaving a piece of candy on the pillow. In middle school, she’d make lists of necessities like shampoo and sheets and place pretend online orders to outfit a boutique lodging establishment that had long since been on her mind.

Her youthful daydreams turned into reality on June 5, 2021, when she won the She Has a Deal (SHaD) hotel pitch competition and $50,000 in equity.

A recent graduate of the WSU School of Hospitality Business Management, Spring drew from her business training to formulate a pitch for a Delta Hotel conversion located in Chantilly, Virginia. Her business, Celeste Companies, focused on renovating the existing property to add meeting space and an American-style casual dining concept.

Leading up to the pitch

“I knew very little about real estate or finance,” said Spring, “but because my hospitality program is immersed in the Carson College of Business, I had solid, hands-on business experience to draw from.”

One of those experiences was traveling to a conference in New York City with the WSU Sigma Iota hospitality club—that’s where she heard about the competition.

During a breakout session, panelist Tracy L. Prigmore spoke to the attendees about the pitch competition sponsored by SHaD, an educational real estate investment platform that creates pathways to hotel ownership and development for young women.

The opportunity captured Spring’s attention immediately.

“Who would think that a program this niche and specific to my dream would exist for young females? It was not a question of if but when I would enter it,” she said.

She entered the 2021 competition and spent several months preparing by attending SHaD’s multi-module education series, which provides coaching and educates the contestants about sourcing, evaluating, financing and pitching a hotel investment deal.

The financial modeling was the most difficult to master, Spring said. Typically, investors create financial models by looking at a hotel’s past performance, but the global pandemic disrupted financial data. “I really had to take the time to understand the data and how to project future performance,” she said.

She also leaned on Prigmore, who coached her through the process.

“Emma Claire’s pitch stood out because of her eloquence,” said Prigmore. “Her presentation included all of the key elements needed to persuade investors to take action, and she elegantly exuded confidence through the entire pitch, including the Q&A.”

Spring hits a home run with hotel acquisition proposal

Spring had 15 minutes to convince the judges why her hotel deal was the top choice for the $50,000 grand prize.

Her winning proposal included negotiating key money from Marriott and identifying a management company to increase operational efficiencies. “To create upside for my investors, the property would undergo a major renovation with a budget of $10.7 million for capital improvements,” she said. “Converting the property from a 232-key, select-service Holiday Inn to a full-service Delta by Marriott for $27 million was also well below replacement cost.”

Spring, who presented solo, beat out four other teams from Cornell University, San Diego State University, Michigan State University, and the Zigurat Global Institute of Technology.

“For a solo pitcher to win just shows that if you want something badly enough and are willing to work for it, big things can happen,” said Prigmore.

“I’m really hard on myself, and I didn’t think I’d even make it to finals,” said Spring. “I gained so much confidence through the process and am so grateful for the practical knowledge that most people don’t get until a lot later in their careers.”

Though another buyer outbid her deal, Spring will retain her equity funding and invest it in a hotel project identified by TLT Solutions, Prigmore’s real estate investment firm. Spring also works as a junior market manager for Inspirato, a luxury hospitality company providing its members exclusive access to some of the world’s most luxurious homes, hotels, and hospitality experiences.

She plans to stay in the hospitality real estate realm and travel the world before fulfilling her childhood dream of owning her own hotel investment firm.