Feb282011

Competition Lets Students Pitch Innovations to Business Community

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By Catherine Ferraro

Professor Mahesh Joshi, associate professor of entrepreneurship and global strategy, initiated the competition four years ago. Creative Services photo

A personalized scholarship database; a customized online cookbook; a product that revolutionizes how acoustic drums are recorded. These are just some of the innovative ideas that were created by Mason students and presented at the fourth annual Dean’s Business Plan Competition in December 2010.

Sponsored by Mason’s School of Management (SOM) and supported by the Mason Entrepreneurship Initiative, the competition takes place at the end of the fall semester. During the competition, undergraduate student teams submit business plan ideas and receive feedback from successful entrepreneurs, as well as cash rewards.

“I believe it is very important to help students realize their potential and connect with members of the business community,” says Mahesh Joshi, the associate professor of entrepreneurship and global strategy who started the competition.

“In addition, the competition furthers the mission of the university by encouraging students to think entrepreneurially and gets them excited about creating firms based on their own original ideas.”

Within SOM, students taking the MGMT 451 New Venture Creation course are selected to present their business plans in the Dean’s Business Plan Competition. In addition, students pursuing a minor in business and enrolled in MSOM 304 Entrepreneurship: Starting and Managing a New Enterprise participate in the competition.

Both courses are designed to help students gain a greater understanding of entrepreneurial concepts and new venture creation.

Learning from the Pros

An important part of the competition, notes Joshi, is the opportunity for students to interact with members of the business community. For students in the competition, this interaction starts in the classroom.

Robert Gaudian, David Miller and Skip West are successful entrepreneurs who have started their own companies and are actively involved in managing their businesses. As adjunct SOM faculty members, they also happen to teach the courses from which the business plan student teams are drawn.

Joshi also invites several entrepreneurs, many of whom are Mason alumni, from across the country to judge and sponsor the competition.

Some of the alumni who participated in the 2010 competition include the primary sponsor, Chuck Schue, EMBA ’05. He is founder and chief executive officer of UrsaNav Inc., which provides engineering and information technology services. Others are Bhupesh Wadhawan, BS Accounting and Management Information Systems ’02, who is president of Link Solutions Inc., an information technology and management consulting services firm; Norman Ryan Merritt, MBA ’09, co-founder of Meret & Co, a professional women’s wear company; and Walter Pinson, BS Computer Science ’97 and EMBA ’10. Beckyanne Theriot, founder of A First-Class Move, a move management company, expects to receive a BIS degree this year.

And the Awards Go To…

During the competition, students are required to give a 12-minute presentation on their business plan, followed by a three-to-five-minute question-and-answer session. Judges evaluate each student team based on several factors: the need for the business; how the products or services will be created and delivered; and whether or not the students made a case for their business.

In December, sponsors awarded $2,000 in prize money — quite a substantial increase from the $500 that was awarded when the competition began four years ago. Joshi hopes to increase the amount in the future and has already secured nearly $5,000 in sponsorships for the next competition.

The student team Scholarique took first prize and earned $1,000 in the most recent competition. For their business plan, junior management majors David Wellington, Syed Bokhari, Zachary Ulm and Dikesh Malhotra created a unique and hassle-free way of finding and applying to college scholarships.

“Competing in the Dean’s Business Plan Competition was a phenomenal experience and was an excellent opportunity for us to stand before entrepreneurs and pitch our idea on which we had worked so hard,” says Wellington. “This competition gave me and my team leaders the confidence that we can also be entrepreneurs and leaders and create something new and useful.”

Eclipse Digital is the name of the student team that won the Audience Choice Award of $500. Competing against the electronic drum market, Eclipse Digital proposes a product that will transform how acoustic drums are recorded. At the same time, the product will save drummers and recording engineers time and money without sacrificing quality.

Reflecting the university’s commitment to sustainability, the competition awarded a new prize to the business plan that exhibited concern for social entrepreneurship and sustainability. The student team My Custom Cookbook received this special prize and won $500. My Custom Cookbook offers an online database that will eliminate the frustration of daily meal planning and the inconvenience of spoiled food.

“I truly believe that this competition pulls students out of their comfort zone and is a test of their convictions,” says Joshi. “It’s not easy to put something out there in which you’ve invested so much time and energy. This competition is the first requirement for a budding entrepreneur.”

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