|HOW GREAT IDEAS EVOLVE|
THE NINTH ANNUAL UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI BUSINESS PLAN COMPETITION SHOWCASED A RANGE OF STARTUPS AND ILLUSTRATED HOW ENTREPRENEURS DEVELOP THEM OVER TIME.
In the eight years since the first University of Miami Business Plan Competition, sponsored by the School of Business Administration, the program has evolved — allowing non-business students to enter, adding prize categories, bringing in more real-world entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as judges. “We’ve made a conscious effort to up the caliber of the competition,” says Ken Colwell, director of entrepreneurship programs at the School and head of the competition. “Part of that was to focus on investability, on businesses that investors would put their money behind.” That’s reflected not only in the number of winners this year whose ventures are already operating, but also in how the business plans changed from their original inception to the final judging session. “Writing a business plan and entering the competition is a positive,” Colwell says.
“Students have to look at the totality of a business and how it operates.” Learning those skills, he adds, is the essence of entrepreneurship. Those who learned them best took home a total of $42,000 at the end of the 2011 competition, which began in fall of 2010 and ended with final judging on April 1.
GRAND PRIZE — GRADUATE: $10,000
LOOKING AT THE BIG PICTURE
Chiral merges street art with avant-garde fashion.
The January 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama inspired widespread emotions — and at least one business idea. That it has something to do with graffiti and bikinis is totally beside the point.
“I started shooting with a technique called gigapixel-resolution imaging after seeing it used for a massive pan- oramic image of the inauguration,” explains Jay Hirschfeld (BS ’09), then a double major at UM in Fine Art Photography and Motion Pictures. That particular digital photography process produces super-high-resolution images — containing 100 times as much data as a 10-megapixel camera — that can be stitched together to create a mosaic of individual shots. “I was looking at the technology as a way to set myself apart as the first fine artist to work at this resolution,” Hirschfeld says.
An abandoned, graffiti-festooned pumping station in New Jersey provided inspiration for what would eventually become Chiral, a cloth- ing company that uses high-resolution photography for its designs. Hirschfeld shot a 360-degree gigapixel image of the street art, generating a file so large it took him 12 hours to print. He showed the striking image to friends. “One girl said it would look cool on bikinis,” Hirschfeld says, “and then it was ‘down the rabbit hole we go.’” He seized on the idea of applying the image to clothing.
Even with his entrepreneurial zeal, Hirschfeld recognized that he needed help to bring his venture to fruition. Curiosity about the apparel application drew Karen DeNunzio, a Miami-area clothing designer with extensive production know-how, into the project. “She gave me the education I needed on fashion production, as well as contacts with local clothing manufacturers,” Hirschfeld says. Lending financial, marketing and oth- er business insight was Trevor Cowan (BA ’11). Those collaborators officially formed Chiral LLC in October 2010. (The name, pronounced “KY-rul,” derives from an optical phenomenon in physics.)
That October, then-graduate-student David Lerner (MBA ’10), suggested that the concept be submitted to the Business Plan Competition. That effort began with workshops at The Launch Pad, UM’s entrepreneurial support program. While the finished plan did garner a grand prize, Hirschfeld has continued to develop it.
“Since the competition, when Chiral had two streams of revenue, I’ve come up with about 10 more from conversations with other people,” Hirschfeld says, citing modest sales on the Chiral website of bikinis and board shorts adorned with his graffiti images. He’s also in discussions with several street artists about obtaining rights to their art, and is beginning to offer printing on other types of fabric. “What Chiral brings to the table is our technology and production process,” he explains.
Chiral has set Hirschfeld apart as an artist, as he wanted, although his entrepreneurial maturation continues. “I think we have a first-to-market advantage over any competitors, technology-wise,” Hirschfeld says. “Beyond that, this project has started to take on a life of its own.”
Jay Hirschfeld found a way to turn his art into a viable business plan.
A former high school football player, his head coach and dirty gyms were the basic ingredients behind the company that evolved into MicrobeArmour.
The idea for the company was hatched when Zack Hirsch and his former football coach from Shorecrest High School in St. Petersburg, Fla., were working out at local gyms. “All the gyms were really dirty,” recalls Hirsch. During Hirsch’s freshman year at UM, the two collaborated on a business solution to the problem. “That’s when we got into steam-cleaning gyms,” he says. But it wasn’t long before they agreed that steam-cleaning wasn’t a long-term remedy for filthy gyms and individually operated gyms weren’t their best potential customers, and mothballed the venture.
Yet Hirsch couldn’t wipe the filth out of his mind, so to speak, and began researching alternative cleaners. During his sophomore year, “I came across an amazing product, patented by Dow-Corning in 1976, that inhibits the growth of bacteria,” he says. Unlike disinfectants that spot-clean and dissipate, this one keeps working for months. It’s used for cleaning large venues at great expense, a business model Hirsch didn’t see within his purview, so he focused on smaller, more accessible markets. “We moved from targeting gyms to surgical centers,” he says. “That’s where we found the most need, especially because they are required by certification boards to keep their infection rates low.”
Another college sophomore might have had a tough time obtaining a licensing agreement from a multinational corporation, but Hirsch, who majored in entrepreneurship at the School, persisted for months and finally succeeded.
“That coincided with an entrepreneurship class I was taking with Assistant Professor of Management Marc Junkunc,” he says. “We had to describe a business we’d like to start, and he liked this idea.” Hirsch and a classmate, Lianne Landa (BBA ’11), teamed up on the assignment to write a formal business plan.
Meanwhile, Hirsch continued to work with Dow-Corning’s product. After undergoing formal training on how to apply it with an electrostatic spray gun, he did some test cleaning, which helped him and Landa elaborate on the business plan in Colwell’s entrepreneurship class last fall. They focused in particular on licensing the proprietary application system, eventually entering the competition. “We made the plan so much better, because we had a long time working on it together,” Hirsch says, crediting Landa, a senior at the time, for her marketing input.
MicrobeArmour was incorporated at the beginning of this year, and since then has cleaned two Miami-area surgical centers and several other facilities. “I’ve been obsessed with this idea for nearly four years,” Hirsch says. “I can’t wait to make it into what I hope it can be, because it’s got great potential.”
Zack Hirsch and Lianne Landa’s plan targets surgical centers — and has the potential to clean up in business.
2ND PRIZE — UNDERGRADUATE: $5,000
ELECTRIFYING AN ANCIENT CONVEYANCE
E-Tuk puts a charge in Pakistan’s public transportation system.
Lahore, Pakistan, teems with a population of 10 million people, many of whom get around by hiring tuk-tuks — three-wheeled, gas-powered versions of ancient rickshaws that are as common there as taxicabs are in New York. They contribute to the air and noise pollution that the government increasingly worries about, along with a nationwide shortage of petroleum products. Meanwhile, tuk-tuk operators and their riders fret over the availability and rising price of gas. There’s hope of alleviating those problems by converting some of the roughly 35,000 tuk-tuks to run on cleaner, cheaper and more plentiful CNG (compressed natural gas). Shahzain Malik (BBA ’11) and Carl Mbao (BsBA ’11) have an even better solution: the all-electric, battery-powered E-Tuk.
Malik was raised in Lahore, the youngest son of a successful businessman whose extended family created Guard Group, Pakistan’s largest automotive parts manufacturer, in 1960. “From the time I was a kid,” Malik recalls, “my grandfather talked about making an entire car, not just parts, and my passion started from there.”
How Malik’s passion led to the launch of E-Tuk is the stuff of entrepreneurial convergence. Malik had been incubating an idea for an internal-combustion-engine car with The Launch Pad when he met Eric Kriss, the co-founder of Bain Capital and an Entrepreneur in Residence at the School at the time — and, coincidentally, the originator of Kriss Motors, a maker of electric cars. “After he educated me about electric cars, I realized how inefficient IC engines are,” Malik says. He quickly switched research-and-development gears. He also enlisted Mbao, an international student from Zambia who has worked in investment banking, to help with the analytics and number-crunching. “I laid out the income statements and projections for earnings,” Mbao says, “so we could determine when the company would turn a profit.”
On trips to Lahore, Malik rode in tuk-tuks and talked to owners, most of them low-income individuals who pay about $1,600 for a gas-powered model or nearly $2,000 for a CNG version, the same estimated cost of an E-Tuk. He extolled the advantages of electricity: the battery can be charged at night, nullifying daytime rationing; over the eight-year lifespan of a tuk-tuk, an electric one will reduce annual expenses by more than half and keep fares in check.
The current plan calls for E-Tuk to be incorporated into the larger family business as a subsidiary.
“Our business plan has been like a puzzle, and all the pieces have come together,” Malik says. Indeed, 200 E-Tuks are on their way to Lahore for testing.
Shahzain Malik (left) and Carl Mbao think their E-Tuk idea has legs — and wheels.
Fabiana Claure (DMA ’11) and William Villaverde (DMA ’11) met in his hometown of Havana, Cuba, where both were immersed in music education. Beyond piano lessons, their comprehensive studies featured music theory, music history, ear training and choir. In 2002, they were awarded scholarships to the College of Charleston toward bachelor’s degrees in music. “We got to the first theory class, and they were starting from scratch,” Villaverde says. Adds Claure: “We were going over fundamentals we had learned since we were 8.” But many of the other students lacked that fundamental training.
The couple married in 2004 and continued their music education, ultimately ending up in the doctoral program at UM’s Frost School of Music. They continued to see a lack of pre-college fundamental training among music majors. “We kept asking ourselves, ‘What’s going on?’” Villaverde says. “There is something with pre-college music education in the U.S. that is messed up.”
They discussed the issue at the Music Teachers National Association conference in Albuquerque, N.M., in 2010. “They were trying to create a system for teaching fundamentals to music students before they get to college,” says Villaverde. That’s when he said to his wife, “There’s great potential here for a business.” Spurred on by the music business courses Claure was taking, they developed the basic idea for Superior Academy of Music, which would be staffed with highly qualified faculty. “We’ve always wanted a career that combines performing and teaching,” she says, “so we need to have business tools.”
The couple envisioned SAM providing both teaching and mentoring, helping students understand the audition process and how to look for scholarships to college. They later expanded their idea to accept students who might not want to become professional musicians, yet who value having a strong extracurricular activity on their college applications.
Their experience teaching both at Frost and at their private studio has granted them some business acumen, as well as an appreciation for the differences between their all-day music education and American students’ routines. “We had to adapt SAM to the realities of life here and how students are committed to other activities,” Claure says.
The pair began work on their business plan at The Launch Pad, a UM entrepreneurial initiative housed through the Toppel Career Center, then refined it for the competition. Using the prize money and contributions from friends and family, they leased space in the Greenery Mall in Miami and opened SAM in late August. “We see ourselves as a Kaplan for music,” Claure says, referring to the giant test-prep company. “[We’ll be] preparing students for higher degrees.”
THE RIGHT TUNE
Fabiana Claure and William Villaverde hope their idea draws an audience.
Quinn Worden fits the entrepreneur mold perfectly. “I had a lemonade stand when I was 8, and became a caddie when I was 12,” says Worden, who is double-majoring in marketing and entrepreneurship, and entered the competition as a junior. “I always wanted to start my own business.”
He got a taste of that by helping out at his father’s physical therapy clinic. But the proverbial light bulb went on during Worden’s freshman year at UM, when his father remarked that every one of his patients has to go home with a product to help them get better. “I said, ‘OK, that’s a business opportunity. I’ll see where I can go from there,’” Worden recalls.
He began researching the array of equipment prescribed to physical therapy patients. Worden already had a good grasp of e-commerce, having interned as a teenager for Staples founder Paul Rodman, whom he knew through his synagogue. “I didn’t even know what a wholesaler was before then,” Worden admits. “He took my under his wing and taught me a lot.”
Worden’s venture is PT United, an online retailer of physical therapy products, providing clinician “partners” with a personalized e-commerce website and, in turn, another revenue source. Looking ahead, he envisions adding other practitioners to the client list and enhancing the site. PT United is also developing software that Worden says will help build a dominant Internet presence. He plans to enter his evolving plan in the 2012 competition as well. “I’m going to rework the business plan and the financials,” he says, in true entrepreneurial fashion.
Quinn Worden expects to tweak his plan.
True entrepreneurs can glean inspiration from disparate sources. MBA students Spencer Lewin, Dustin Ottemiller and Marc Jacocks found theirs last fall in UM’s Technology Transfer Office, which finds commercial applications for University faculty’s discoveries. At the behest of Marc Junkunc, an assistant professor of management at the School, Ottemiller sifted through reams of patents before finding a potentially revolutionary one for detecting corrosion on ships, aircraft and other big vehicles.
“We met with the inventor, Xiangyang Zhou, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering,” Lewin says, “and went from there.” That meant months of extensive research and discussions with corrosion experts, mechanics and other likely customers before finalizing the business plan for a company they named NanoScan. The company’s novel approach to the $275 billion U.S. business of detecting, preventing and repairing corrosion is to license a two-part system: a proprietary handheld device that easily gets into hard-to-reach places to detect rust and other corrosive elements, and software to analyze test results.
“As the idea grew, we decided that its greatest application is in preventative maintenance, detecting corrosion while vehicles are still in the field,” Lewin says. “We are adding value to companies in the maritime and aviation industries,” Ottemiller adds. “NanoScan is something for mechanics to sell and a way for fleet owners to save money.”
A fraction of that $275 billion is enticing, but the cost of prototypes of the company’s scanner — estimated at $10,000 each — is daunting. “Our plan for now,” Lewin says, “is to start small, produce one device and prove to the market that it works."
SCANNING FOR SUCCESS
NanoScan’s founders like what they see.
4TH PRIZE — UNDERGRADUATE: $1,000
DISHING OUT DAILY DELIGHTS
On the Can is flush with potential.
Andrew Cohen (BBA ’11) imagined becoming a lawyer when he began a summer 2010 internship at a law firm in his hometown of St. Louis. But the experience instead changed his aspirations. “I ended up just filing all day long for eight weeks,” he says. In the process, though, he came up with a better plan. To pass the time, he’d retreat to the men’s room and surf the Web on his cellphone for interesting stuff to read. “That’s where the idea for On the Can came from,” Cohen admits.
The idea was to create entertaining reading material. By August, Cohen was writing a daily email newsletter, filled with his humorous ruminations on sports news, and zapping it to a handful of friends.
“I thought an online newsletter was the best way to get news, because anyone can check their email whenever and wherever they want,” he says. Over the next several months, Cohen and two fellow seniors at the School, Scott Feldman (BBA ’11) and Leila Siddique (BBA ’11), refined the idea and wrote a business plan for the competition.
The newsletter morphed into an aggregation of sports stories from ESPN, Yahoo! and other online sources, to which Cohen started hyperlinking his commentaries. As readership grew, he added an ad-supported website. Future plans call for a blog, a smartphone app and new writers to cover other topics.
Cohen is currently working toward his MBA at Babson College in Massachusetts, but On the Can persists. “It hasn’t peaked at all,” he maintains. “It’s still evolving.”
A less-than-inspiring internship helped Andrew Cohen (above) come up with a business plan.
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