Student entrepreneurs will pitch their business concepts at the semifinals of UCSB’s 12th Annual New Venture Competition today in Corwin Pavilion, competing for cash prizes and potential investments into their business start-ups.
The Technology Management Program sponsors the competition every year and coaches students through the process of conceptualizing and executing business plans. A somewhat overlooked academic avenue at the university because it does not offer a major, TMP is an educational program within the college of engineering that offers mentoring for undergraduate and graduate students looking to expand their business acumen.
The winners of today’s round will present key business details along with elevator pitches to a panel of business executives and venture capitalists for the chance at entrance into the finals.
TMP Program Manager Bill Grant said the organization encourages students to make ambitious but realistic business goals through program offerings such as the New Venture Competition, the Entrepreneurs-at-the-Table network and business advising.
“There is a misconception here that we are here to stamp ‘founder’ on their forehead — we’re actually here to develop critical thinking,” Grant said. “Students enjoy an unfettered connection with the real world.”
As the parameters for the New Venture Competition are flexible and allow students to choose their own projects, a diverse array of business proposals will face judges today. The different projects are truly hard to compare for their breadth and scope vary depending on the concept. All the proposals — such as a program that allows users to mimic stock investments, a surfboard company based on new technological developments in construction, a plan to reduce amputations and foot injuries in diabetes patients — exhibit the work of student ingenuity and months of preparation. The 20 semifinalist groups will be slimmed down after today and the winners will move onto the final round, set for May 11.
Bender Surfboards CEO Michael Scatterday, a fourth-year business economics major and former president of the Student Entrepreneur’s Association, said TMP provides an invaluable service to serious young entrepreneurs.
“I owe a great deal to the TMP program for everything that is has taught me,” Scatterday said. “They make every effort to have everything you need to start a business be made directly available to you.”
Scatterday will present the details of his company to the panel today, looking for a substantial investment to bring his line of surf, kite, skim and boat boards to the market. The Gaucho surfboard manufacturer formed the business last year with UCSB alum Cameron Biehl, a 2010 graduate of the Environmental Studies Dept., to bring a 10-year-long research and development project to the public.
According to Scatterday, his company’s product line incorporates new flex technology that brings an added dimension to surfing potential. Supported by TMP mentoring, Bender Surfboards became a licensed LLC in March this year and is currently capable of producing hundreds of surf-ready boards a month.
“We already produced about 250 boards and 10 generations of prototypes over the last 10 years and have a dedicated following of passionate surfers,” Scatterday said.
Current S.E.A. president Danny Tarkeshian will unveil his group’s venture, DermaTex, a “new type of proprietary coating for fabrics to help mitigate foot problems for people living with skin conditions,” which he said aims to reduce injurious health conditions for people living with diabetes.
According to Tarkeshian, his business model is structured to make a profit while providing needed health care.
“Half of all the amputations in the United States are directly attributed to diabetes,” Tarkeshian said in an e-mail. “DermaTex is on a mission to improve the lives of people living with diabetes.”
According to Grant, the TMP program allows UCSB undergraduate and graduate students the rare privilege of collaborating on projects for both the competition and general skill development.
“We are one of the only schools in North America that has undergraduates and graduates in the same [program],” Grant said.
Semifinalist company Mockingbird Financial, for example, has a five-person management team composed of CEO Avi Sudaley, a fourth-year communication major, as well as graduate students, alumni and professional long-term investors. According to Sudaley — who said he has four years of experience conducting software-service marketing and working as an active day trader — Mockingbird is designed to change the way investors react to the market.
“Instead of following stocks, Mockingbird allows you to follow people and mimic their trades,” Sudaley said. “Basically, if this idea were to take hold, it would significantly change the nature of how people invest in the market.”
According to Grant, most of the groups aim high, but with good reason — past years’ participants have seen enormous success with their innovations, and some have gone on to form very profitable companies such as 2001 New Venture Competition winner Inogen, which brought lightweight portable oxygen concentrators to the medical market.
However, the New Venture Competition is no joy ride, Grant said. According to him, most students find that developing a viable business plan demands an extreme amount of extracurricular effort.
“The peer groups really separate themselves — if you don’t add something to the table in terms of interest, energy…” Grant said with a shrug.