George Mason UniversitySchool of Business

Innovation pays off for these Mason students

Written by Damian Cristodero on .

Four and a half years ago, John T. Hill began working as a janitor at the Leesburg (Va.) Executive Airport.

“They called me the facilities coordinator,” Hill recalled, “but I really was the janitor.”

Hill EasyFBOHill shook his head at the recollection and how far he has come. The George Mason University senior is now a business owner with an operational app—EasyFBO—that makes the fueling and servicing of planes at general aviation airports more efficient.

The app is used at the Leesburg airport, and Hill said he expects it to be in nine airports by the end of the year. On April 15, Hill, an economics major, pitched his business model to a panel of four judges and won the first-place prize of $10,000 at George Mason’s annual Deans’ Business Plan Competition at 1776, a global incubator in Crystal City, Va.

Niels Bulskov, a junior marketing major and founder of Ground Control Coffee, took second place ($3,000) for his plan to ship fresh coffee beans to customers within four days of their order.

Nico Vivero, a senior management major, and Madeena Haidari, BS Criminology, Law and Society ’15, of Selva Farms, won the Social Impact Award ($3,000) for their plan to bring hyper-local and sustainably grown herbs and greens to the Washington, D.C., area through vertical farming.

Rishub Nagpal, a freshman computer engineering major, received $10,000 as winner of the Mobile Game Competition to fund the development of his mobile game, Tree Checkers. Nagpal said the money will be used to hire developers, designers and artists.

“We’re getting the word out that Mason is loaded with innovators,” said David J. Miller, executive director of Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the School of Business. “We can put it on banners all we want, but when people see it, that’s when they believe it.”

Hill received an additional $1,000 as the Audience Choice Award winner, voted by the 130 spectators.

What were your thoughts at the end of the competition? “As much satisfaction as you can describe,” Hill said. “You push and you push at it and keep persevering because you believe in the end goal. The satisfaction of it working out is very fulfilling.”

How will the money be used? “It’s real money we need to build the business this summer. It will help me to travel to be with customers when they launch, to know what the industry wants, to keep implementing changes to keep updating and making the app better.”

How much have you put into your business? “Including development costs, less than $20,000.”

That’s pretty lean. “Very lean. [Mason’s] David Miller is a big proponent of the lean startup method. Basically, get the most basic thing out there and then add to that.”

The Deans’ Business Plan Competition was co-hosted by deans of the School of Business, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Science and the Volgenau School of Engineering.