A Win-Win: Class Teaches Entrepreneurial Skills, Offers $5,000 Seed Money

Posted: June 1, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: June 1, 2010 at 7:59 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

HungryEyes team members Giovanni Torres, Corey Maso and Vikram Bondugula accept their start-up "check" after presenting their business plan to a panel of judges. Photo courtesy of Skip West

Is it really possible to go from geek to “gazillionaire”? Students in a graduate-level course that combines IT skills with business know-how certainly hope so.

Over the course of a semester, students learn how to come up with a new business idea, research and test that idea, and then develop a comprehensive written business plan based on it.

From Geeks to Gazillionaires: Turning Ideas into Successful Companies is a course offered through both the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering and the School of Management.

Students who recently completed the course got a chance to share their work when they presented their business plans to a panel of judges including Lloyd Griffiths, dean of the Volgenau School; Henry Barratt, venture capitalist, banker and entrepreneur; Jonathan Aberman, venture capitalist and start-up advisor; Mahesh Joshi, professor at the School of Management; and Peter Paris, director of the master’s in telecommunication program.

One talented team even walked away with $5,000 in seed money to start their business.

“The centerpiece of the course is the development of a formal business plan and the associated presentation materials,” says Skip West, one of the class instructors.

“The course is a practicum in applying the previous theory learned about entrepreneurship, as well as a capstone combining elements of accounting, finance, management, marketing and information technology into an integrated whole within the context of a start-up company.”

Offered at Mason for the first time in 2005, the class is taught every spring by West and Suresh Shenoy, executive vice president of IMC Corporation.

While at Stanford Business School, West was enrolled in a similar course and met an engineering student who later became his business partner. Realizing that this connection would never have been made had he not been enrolled in the class, West wanted to provide others the same opportunities to make connections. So he approached Mason with his idea.

Since its inception, the course has led to the creation of at least six start-up companies. Word of its success has spread, and enrollment has increased, especially among engineering students who find the topic particularly appealing.

“I had never seen a similar class within a telecommunications program,” says Giovanni Torres, who is pursuing an MS in telecommunications and was on the winning team.

“The title of the course was especially intriguing because I recently began independent IT consulting on the side and wanted to learn more about how businesses are structured.”

The winning team created a business called HungryEyes, which they describe as “an online food ordering service which will make the ordering and payment of takeout and delivery food orders easier for consumers.”

Along with Torres, team members were Vikram Bondugula, who also is pursuing an MS in telecommunications, and Corey Maso, who is pursuing an MBA.

“When we initially met as a group, we threw out a lot of ideas,” says Torres. “We wanted to do something that took advantage of current trends, such as mobile applications and social networking. This was the idea we all liked the most and kept building upon until the end of the semester.”

According to the team’s executive summary of their business, “HungryEyes will show all of the takeout and delivery restaurants available to a consumer based on food category, location, consumer reviews and our unique ‘on my way’ feature, which will identify takeout restaurants that are on the way to a user defined destination.”

While the product will be free to consumers, the team has identified three categories of partner restaurants. Each category will have unique benefits and cost structures.

After taking a short break from the semester’s rigors, the team hopes to use the $5,000 in seed money to develop a limited-functionality prototype of their product that will allow them to present something tangible to investors when seeking initial funding.

Other business plans that were presented by students in the course include: eParking (a StubHub type of company for parking); gConnect (all things “green”); a geothermal company; PantryCookbook (a web site with information on expiration dates and ideas to use up your food) and Stratus App (a cloud computing company).

“This class was a lot of work, but for a good reason,” says Torres. “Everyone walked away with a ton of business knowledge.”

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu