Business Plan Competition Rewards Entrepreneurism Across the Disciplines
By Rosa Vivanco and Frances Womble
Like the television show “Shark Tank,” in which entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas and products to potential investors, Mason student entrepreneurs had a chance this month to compete for funding for their potential businesses in the sixth annual Dean’s Business Plan Competition.
Since 2007, students have been presenting their business plans to a panel of judges in the Mason School of Management-sponsored event. But this year’s prize—$10,000 in cash, and $10,000’s worth of in-kind services—was a first for the competition. This was also the first year that the competition was open to Mason students in general, not just School of Management students.
The 39 entries from student teams across the university were whittled down to 11 finalists who had eight minutes on December 8th to convince the successful entrepreneurs on the panel of judges that their plan was a winner.
Before an audience of faculty and students, master of business administration students Sean Barnes and Brian Dreyer took first place for their proposed company, Hooliga, a web-based hub enabling online and offline connections between like-minded sports fans.
The second place, and $5,000, was awarded to the team Rendezvous, consisting of management student Hadil Alyamani and Jessica Garretson, who proposed an all-women’s beauty and fitness studio in Falls Church. Management student Rachel Carr and Dayton Carroll took the third place with its $4,000 cash prize for their proposal, Gotta Have It Buoy, a self-deploying buoy used to retrieve objects that have fallen into water. A $1,000 audience’s choice award was presented to the team Ban-Yam Juice, accounting student James B. Di Rubbio and management student Donald Shohei Takagi, who proposed an original yam-based juice.
Mason’s entrepreneurs in residence John Casey and Ron Kaiser, co-founders and owners of private management consulting company RELM2 LLC, served as judges. The entrepreneurs and Mason alumni on the judges panel included Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma, BS Biology ’03, MBA ’11; Jeff Fissel, BS Information Technology ’06; and Dale “Dusty” Wince, EMBA ’12, who recently donated $100,000 to the new Student Venture Fund.
The School of Management has been able increase the amount of the awards thanks to the Student Venture fund, which was created by Mason alumni Lovey Hammel, BS Marketing ’88, and Charles McGrath, BS Finance and Decision Science ’86. The fund was created to provide monetary support, training, and mentorship for a team of students from any academic discipline at Mason to explore ideas for business products and services.
Nursing, psychology, and engineering students were among the teams presenting at this year’s competition. The team Electro Movement demonstrated an innovative collaboration between business and engineering. Accounting student Michael Ly, computer engineering student Yi Qu, electrical engineering student Michelle Samra, and bioengineering student Amanda Zuzolo proposed an electronically controlled “electro-arm” to mount different appliances and control the devices with the use of a touchscreen. The project stemmed from the students’ desire to help a Mason professor with cerebral palsy, and others with limited mobility, to use devices such as laptops and cameras.
After the presentations, Mason alumnus and entrepreneur Amir Ansari, BS Electrical Engineering ’90, announced the winning teams and shared his “Top Ten Lessons Learned in Business” with the aspiring entrepreneurs during a luncheon at the Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel. Ansari is chief technology officer and co-founder of Prodea Systems, as well as a member of the X Prize Foundation’s Vision Circle and Board of Trustees.
According to the competition’s creator, Mahesh Joshi, director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program and Mason associate professor of global strategy and entrepreneurship, this year’s broader range of entries across varied topics benefits not only students, but the contest’s supporters as well.
“Donors like the idea that the competition no longer involves only students from within the department, because innovation and entrepreneurship can come from anywhere,” says Joshi. “The idea of entrepreneurship is not monopolized by the business discipline. Next year, we’re expecting even greater collaborations. We’re in a great spot.”