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Getting Down To Business

Getting Down To BusinessNow in its fifth year, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program's annual classic and social entrepreneurship business plan competitions continue help to students make their innovative ideas a reality.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.04.09] In a sea of black suits, skirts and ties, they sat with laptops and portfolios, intent on showing they meant "business."

Pamela Goldberg, the director of the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) whichhoused in Tufts Gordon Institute, has witnessed this before. The event was thefifth annual classic and social entrepreneurship business plan competitions.

This year's competition, held on March 25, featured a variety of innovative ideas, including classic competition winners Michael Mintz (F'09), Kunal Gupta (F'08) and Matthew Hnatio (F'09) who developed Peelable Paint, a product which goes on like regular paint, but once dry can be peeled off in one strip.

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There were the social competition winners, Jeremy Fryer-Biggs (E'11), Andrew Neville and Malcolm Cecil-Cockwell of The Strivers Foundation, a Uganda-based program seeking to "find an inexpensive alternative to traditional college, to stimulate middle class development by incubating white-collar businesses."

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With a total of $100,000 in cash and in-kind services up for grabs, such as legal counsel, web site support and office rentals, the two competitions aim to encourage members of the Tufts community to pursue innovative ideas for business or social ventures.
The idea to have the competition was first raised suggested several years ago by alum Hank Frigon (E'57)according to Goldberg.

"A little over five years ago [Frigon] came to me with the idea to start a social entrepreneurship competition," she says. "Though he is no longer associated with the competition he gave us the seed funding to get it started, and then alum John Kokulis (E'81) came to me and said if we were going to have a social competition we really needed to have a classic competition, so we started doing both."

Each fall, the ELP holds kick-off sessions on each of Tufts' three campuses, with a fourth session at The Fletcher School. During these sessions, all students are encouraged to write a 10-to-20 page business plan that contains an executive summary, concept of enterprise, descriptions, targets, analysis, financial projections and biographies of principals. Finalists are chosen in med-February, with five teams selected for each category. Presentations are then held at the end of March.

As the competition took off, Goldberg says that she was able to attract corporate sponsorship from businesses such as Cummings Properties, owned by Tufts graduate Bill Cummings (A'58), Web.com and the National Collegiate Investors and Innovators Alliance.

Judges of the competition have varying backgrounds in business and law. This year's judges included Mark Kesslen (E'86), chair of the intellectual property section of Lowenstein Sandler Attorneys at Law and Diane Hessan (A'76), CEO of Communispace. Both are members of the Tufts Entrepreneurial Leadership board of advisors.

Having taught some of this year's participants, Jeremy Halpern, Gordon Institute lecturer on entrepreneurial leadership and managing director of the Boston-based strategic transaction advisory firm Evolution Advisors LLC, feels that the competitions are a great asset to the community as a whole.

"Tufts is a thought leader when it comes to pushing and supporting entrepreneurship, being the first local university to go to the $100K competition format, only to be later emulated at MIT and other area universities," Halpern says. "Tufts is just hitting its stride when it comes to entrepreneurship - with no business school and only a minor in entrepreneurship - and yet the department has grown extraordinarily large on a shoestring budget, which is emblematic of what it is to be an entrepreneur - to do much with little."

For Fryer-Biggs, a graduate student in biomedical engineering, Tufts' encouragement to step beyond his concentration and take one business class per semester played a key role in the future success of his company.

"I was taking courses in the entrepreneurial leadership and that started to teach me how to take this pie-in-the-sky idea and turn it into something that could be real, and helped me focus and push it in such a way that I could deliver it," Fryer-Biggs says. "Then they told me about the business plan competition and I was thought this is a match made in heaven."

Between the competition and the motivational support from his Fletcher School thesis advisor, Shirley Hunter, Mintz says that Tufts has played a large role in the development of Peelable Paint. He says he came up with the idea for the product when he moved into the Blakeley dorms in 2006 and was looking to bring color into his room that neither posters nor carpeting seemed to supply.

"We were honored to participate in this year's business plan competition and to win such a prestigious award," Mintz says "It is wonderful that Tufts supports entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial student spirit at the university. The competition was a great opportunity not only for us to showcase our own products and business plan but to learn from and network with our fellow entrepreneurial students."

"We've had a number of competitors who have actually launched their ventures as a result of this competition," Goldberg says. "Slip Infinity, the sandal company, several alternative energy companies, and most came back for this year's competition. They stay in touch with me, and as they're growing their business they're looking to get in contact with actual funding sources, advisors, and things like that."

Goldberg adds, "Our program in entrepreneurial leadership's primary goal is to educate students, and we see this competition is a way of extending that competition to a broader audience and educating at a deeper level."

Story by Kaitlin Provencher, Web Communications.

 

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