When the School of Business inaugurated its business plan competition five years ago, the first-place prize was $500. In 2010, the prize money was raised to $1,000. This year, the first-place winner received a $10,000 cash prize and in-kind services worth $10,000, thanks to the new Student Venture Fund.
On Saturday, December 8, School of Business MBA students, Sean Barnes and Brian Dreyer, won first place in the 6th Annual Dean's Business Plan Competition. Their proposed company, Hooliga which seeks to be an online hub enabling online and offline connections between like-minded sports fans, was one of 11 entries who presented at the competition. The finalists were chosen from 39 entries in total.
The Dean's Business Plan Competition is an annual George Mason University event open to student teams from across Mason, in any major or discipline. This year's event was sponsored by the Mason Student Venture fund, which was developed to help harness the entrepreneurial energy and innovative spirit of the university's student body.
According to Mahesh Joshi, the director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program and associate professor of global strategy and entrepreneurship who started the competition, an alumnus donated $25,000 last year to create the Student Venture Fund. Thanks to other donations, the fund now holds $250,000, and the goal is to eventually raise the amount to $1 million. The business plan competition is one of the first events associated with the fund.
Among the major donors to the fund are Lynn A. (Lee) Corey; Lovey Hammel, BS Marketing '88; Marilyn Jackson, BS Management '11; Charles McGrath, BS Decision Science '86; and Dale "Dusty" Wince, EMBA '12.
"In the past, we gave small prizes and never followed up with the students to see how the money was used in the business plan," says Joshi. "Now, we're giving a large prize, and thanks to MECFairfax, students will be able to follow through with their plans."
During Saturday's competition, representatives from each of the 11 teams chosen as finalists had eight minutes to present their business plan to a panel of judges and an audience of George Mason faculty and students. The panel of judges was comprised of successful entrepreneurs and Mason alumni, Lyndsey Clutteur DePalma, BS Biology '03 and MBA '11; Jeff Fissel, BS Information Technology '06; and Dale "Dusty" Wince, EMBA '12. Entrepreneur in Residence at George Mason University John Casey and Ron Kaiser, founder and owner of private management consulting company, RELM2, LLC, also served as judges.
Alumnus Amir Ansari, BS Electrical Engineering '90, announced the winning teams during a luncheon at the Mason Inn Conference Center and Hotel after the presentations. 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. He shared his "Top Ten Lessons Learned in Business," including successful use of the "prize model" to stimulate innovation with the aspiring entrepreneurs.
The second-place $5,000 cash prize was awarded to the team Rendezvous, consisting of Hadil Alyamani and Jessica Garretson, who proposed an all-women's beauty and fitness studio in Falls Church. The third-place $4,000 cash prize was awarded to the team Gotta Have It Buoy, consisting of Rachel Carr and Dayton Carroll, who proposed a self-deploying buoy that can be used to retrieve an object that has fallen into water. There was also a $1,000 cash prize for the audience's choice awarded to the team Ban-Yam Juice, consisting of James B. Di Rubbio and Donald Shohei Takagi, who proposed an original yam based juice.
Many interdisciplinary proposals were presented at the competition. Engineering, psychology, and nursing were among the programs and disciplines represented. The team Electro Movement demonstrated an innovative collaboration between business and engineering. Michael Ly, Yi Qu, Michelle Samra, and 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 desire the students had to develop a device to help a Mason professor with cerebral palsy and others with limited mobility use devices such as laptops or cameras.
"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."