The stage is set. The room is packed. Hands are sweaty. Hearts are racing. The PowerPoint presentations are loaded. A $20,000 opportunity is on the line.
That's the scene that 11 teams of students faced on Saturday, November 9 at the School of Business' 7th annual Dean's Business Plan Competition. After making it through the first round of review of 39 business plans, 11 finalists presented to a panel of judges and an audience of business professionals, professors, peers, family, and friends.
Walking away with the grand prize ($10,000 cash and $10,000 in-kind services) this year were MBA students Reem Almulla '14 and Amanda O'Neill '14 for their business plan titled TAKALEED. TAKALEED (TKD) is an online boutique that creates bold, modish accessories. TAKALEED is an Arabic word that means customs and traditions. Accordingly, TKD's mission is to educate people on various cultures around the world through wearable art. Attached to each piece of jewelry will be a description explaining its cultural influences.
"We were stunned the moment they announced TAKALEED as the first place winner in the Dean's Annual Business Plan Competition," said Almulla. "We couldn't believe that all our hard work had finally paid off."
Both Almulla and O'Neill have a background in fashion. Almulla, from Dubai, United Arab Emirates took fashion courses at ESMOD, a French fashion university, and even started a fashion line called The House of Reem. O'Neill, of Native American and African American heritage, completed courses in fashion and merchandising marketing and has participated in several fashion shows. Both have traveled internationally and have a great appreciation for cultures around the world.
Their use of symbols has been one way they incorporated various cultures into their designs. For example, they created pieces with the same shape and structure as the burka, which in Emirati heritage symbolizes marriage. They also incorporated a feather into some designs, which in Native American heritage symbolizes many things from trust to honor, strength, wisdom, power and freedom.
"Currently, we are looking into utilizing artisans of the local cultures to manufacture our jewelry as well," explained O'Neill. "We intend to host cultural events to further bring awareness as well. At the moment these are only ideas, but hopefully with our prize money we can bring our ideas to life."
Almulla and O'Neill weren't the only ones to walk away winners that day. Three other teams were also honored. Coming in second place ($5,000 award) was Kylie's Pop Shop LLC presented by Kylie Carey, an interpersonal and organizational communications major at Mason. Third place ($4,000 award) was FamTribe with team members Ezana Berhane, an applied information technology major at Mason, and Cris Purnell, a computer science major at the College of Southern Maryland. An Audience Choice award ($1,000) voted by the audience in attendance was presented to Cross Over Door Company's team members Jeffrey "Scott" Bauer, studying for a masters in interdisciplinary studies (MAIS) in social entrepreneurship at Mason, and Tyler Malejko, a construction management/engineering major at Mason.
Carey recently transferred to Mason. She established the business concept in November 2011 and made it legal in April 2012. Kylie's Pop Shop, LLC is a woman-owned, small business specializing in custom cake pops and treats, located in Fairfax Station.
"The contest was intense competition and a great learning experience for all," Carey said. "I enjoyed the experience because of the camaraderie and excitement of the students and the staff."
The Dean's Business Plan Competition prizes are funded by the Mason Student Venture Fund and the Mason Enterprise Center. The $250,000 venture fund was established in 2013 through generous donations from alumni Dusty Wince '12, Lovey Hammel '88, Charles McGrath '86, Marilyn Jackson '11, Mark Melton '81, and friend of Mason Lynn A. Lee Corey.
The Mason Enterprise Center provides $10,000 of in-kind services to the winning team. This includes mentoring services and office space, including conference facilities.
Making this great opportunity available to the students can be attributed to conference organizers, Mahesh Joshi, director of the innovation and entrepreneurship program, and associate professor of global strategy and entrepreneurship at Mason's School of Business, and James Wolfe, entrepreneur-in-residence at Mason's School of Business and co-founder and CEO of J Street Consulting. Both Joshi and Wolfe also served as first round judges.
Joshi said, "The event was an impressive show of presenters, students, and families. It was also a wonderful opportunity to connect with our extended Mason Family. There were some teams representing the School of Business, but there were also presenters from many different divisions of George Mason University.
"Having done this event now for several years, I can confidently say that it has become a tradition of Mason and plans are already underway concerning the 2014 competition."
Joining them as first round judges were John Casey, entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor of management at George Mason University, Robert Gaudian, entrepreneur and adjunct professor at the School of Business, and Skip West, president of MAXSA Innovations and adjunct professor at George Mason University.
Final round judges for this year's event included Cheryl Amyx, an award-winning executive and entrepreneur and former founder of Amyx Inc.; Greg Bedner, founder of AMKON and prior chairman, CEO and president of his company, Perot Systems Government Services/ADI Technology Corporation; Tim Keough, an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of Kinsail Corporation; and Dusty Wince, founder and CEO of KCG.
"The event has only continued to grow in the seven years that we have been hosting it," said Joshi. "It's great to see participants from outside of Mason and both at the graduate and undergraduate levels. It's a great opportunity for students to showcase what they have learned and have an opportunity to take an idea and make it a reality."
Almulla and O'Neill carry on the tradition of MBA teams taking home the top prize, following in the footsteps of MBA alumni Sean Barnes '13 and Brian Dreyer '13 who won the 2012 competition with their proposed company Hooliga.
"It felt as though we were in a dream and we finally have the opportunity to start our business without worrying about obtaining funds elsewhere," said Almulla. "We feel very, very grateful and lucky to have won this competition. We intend to make TAKALEED a huge success one day."