By Hally Darnell
From helping travelers make better and faster decisions at Horizon IQ to creating a tool for finding and reserving parking spaces at PrndL to turning foreclosures into real estate listings at Covert Casa, the student ventures showcased in the third round of the 7th annual Broad Business Model Competition were diverse, innovative, and inspiring.
In the first round of the competition judging was based only on the written completion of the event application that outlined the business idea or concept. Judges then selected the top 20 teams to advance to the second round. Teams that moved on to the next round were tasked with preparing full business plans utilizing LivePlan, a business planning software. The top 10 business plans advanced to the third and final round.
On Wednesday, February 15, peers, friends, family, alumni, and faculty gathered at Michigan State University’s Wharton Center for a marketplace-style live pitch to determine the student ventures that would walk away with $21,000 in scholarship winnings.
The annual event, open to all registered MSU students regardless of major or class status, represents a launching point for student ventures. Each team designed displays for marketing materials and proactively networked with the audience to share their vision and goals for their business venture. Judging the competition were alumni Tom Stewart, Program Manager at MSU Conquer Accelerator and Portfolio Manager for Quantum Medical Concepts, and Larry Gaynor, President and CEO TNG Worldwide.
According to Ken Szymusiak, Managing Director of the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and leader of the Business Model Competition, “The biggest benefit of these competitions is the questions the entrepreneurs are asked at the event. They all plan a script in their minds, but by inviting participation from the audience and judges they have to learn to defend their business model on the fly,” he explained. “This will inevitably lead to the discovery of weaknesses in their plans and allow them to adjust accordingly so they are more prepared to take action.”
Aside from the People’s Choice awards, the winning ventures were selected by a panel of judges consisting of distinguished alumni, as well as respected members of the Michigan investment and business communities.
The competition, now MSU’s premiere showcase for student business innovation, transitioned from its original “pitch” presentation format at which participants had a few minutes to present their ventures, to its current marketplace-style, where students network, engage with attendees, give a live pitch, and Q&A.
“The concept of the marketplace format was to allow the teams to prepare their own marketing materials and pitches but in format that is much more closely aligned with that of a trade showc”, said Szymusiak. “Feedback so far from both attendees and participants was that the format change was a resounding success.”
The total purse for the event was divided over the top five ventures. Two $500 People’s Choice awards were given to PrndL and Spartan Energy.
Shane Goldberg (BA Finance ‘18) of Covert Casa took home the first place scholarship of $10,000. With a mission to turn millions of foreclosures into millions of listings, their key functionality is its ability to identify motivated sellers, evaluate the neighborhood that the property resides, and ultimately connect real estate agents with these property owners.
The second place scholarship of $5,000 was awarded to Zach Brewer (BA Marketing ‘17) and Drew Piotrowski (BA Advertising ‘18) of PrndL , a software designed to make parking simple and profitable. Their two core functions are to allow anyone with private access to parking spots, to rent them out whenever they would otherwise go unused. PrndL allows anyone in need of parking to find and reserve a spot in advance.
Abhishek Jindal (MBA Supply Chain Management ‘18) and Hari Ramasubramanian (Accounting Ph.D. student) behind Agri Tech placed third, walking away with a $2,500 scholarship. Agri Tech partners with poor farmers in dense urban areas in India to help them adopt Vertical Farming to increase farm yield without any financial risk or burden.
In fourth place was Oshan Weerasinghe (BA Supply Chain Management ‘14), Broc Edwards (BA Finance ‘17), and Ben Buscarino (BA Computer Science ‘19) of Horizon IQ, who were awarded $1,500.
The $1,000 fifth place scholarship was awarded to Snigdha Tiwari (FTMBA SCM ‘18), Yingqian Lin (Chemistry Ph.D. student), and Jagannath Silwal (Chemistry Ph.D. student) of Spartan Energy, which offers energy efficiency solutions for the military and UAV industry.