St. Louis high school student wins $5,000 for cleft awareness campaign

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ST. LOUIS – A St. Louis student received $5,000 after winning a business pitch contest through a non-profit organization founded by Pharrell Williams.

Ladue Horton Watkins High School Junior Sophia Liu entered the Yellow’s Summer of Innovation competition where students had to prepare business pitches in hopes of receiving funding for their ideas.

Students were challenged to identify a problem worth solving and create a program to address that issue all while bringing positive change to their communities.

Liu won the contest at the high school level with her entry titled “Spreading Smiles”.

In her campaign, she wanted “to help foster an understanding and awareness of cleft conditions through the production and sale of her ‘Spreading Smiles’ t-shirts.”

Liu learned about The Summer of Innovation challenge through the non-profit medical service organization Operation Smile.

Operation Smile first became familiar to Liu because of her aunt who was born with a cleft condition.

“I was inspired by a family member who was born with a cleft lip, and I wanted to pursue an opportunity that could raise general awareness for cleft conditions, with the hope of funding cleft-repair surgeries,” Sophia said.

Through Operation Smile, Liu became more involved in 2019 and worked to coordinate service projects in her community.

Due the pandemic putting a halt to the projects, Liu thought of this business pitch and entered it into the contest.

Liu will be using her winnings to create “Spreading Smiles” t-shirts for her new business and plans on donating some of her profits to Operation Smile.

To learn more about Liu and her business pitch visit or

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