The Technology Management Program’s 13th annual New Venture Competition awarded over $25,000 in prizes to six finalist teams last night at Corwin Pavilion, with aPEEL Technology — a venture for advanced fruit preservation — winning the grand prize and largest amount of money at $10,000.
Competitors pitched their business models and products to a panel of six judges including local venture capitalists and established entrepreneurs. Prizes were awarded to teams in the two tracks of market pull and technology push, with first, second and third place awards given in each category in addition to a People’s Choice Award and grand prize. Top-winning team aPEEL Technology took home first place for the technology push as well as the grand prize while Birdeez, a mobile application and social network for birdwatchers, took first place in the marketing track. The People’s Choice Award, which was decided by an on-site cell phone voting system, was given to Brightblu, a smartphone application for home lighting and appliances.
The competition provided mentoring sessions and guest lectures from local executives and investors beginning in January; finalist teams were selected through the semi-finals last month.
At last night’s event, competing teams gave presentations explaining marketing strategies, statistical demands for their product and investment-driven exit strategies amongst other business plans.
Judge and venture capitalist Keval Desai, who previously worked as the Product Management Director at Google, said students held a level of composure and professionalism reflective of true entrepreneurship.
“The training and mentoring must be excellent because the teams are getting up there on the stage and being extremely articulate,” Desai said. “I see teams pitch to me everyday as a venture capitalist and these teams are as good as the ones I see at my regular job.”
Teams faced extensive questioning following their presentations as judges proposed major points of concern, such as the questionable amount of market demand faced by Birdeez.
When the bird watching-enthusiast company received their first place prize of $5,000, TMP Program Manager Mike Panesis said the team was most impressive for its ability to overcome some of the greatest doubt facing competitors.
“At first we looked at this and said, ‘Bird watching, really?’” Panesis said. “But every step of the way, they not only impressed us with the technical part of what they’re doing but with the business side as well.”
Materials science graduate student James Roger, a member of the top-winning team aPEEL Technology, said although his team’s venture will be better developed through resources and connections provided by NVC, he expects it to grow extensively beyond the contest.
“It really helped us with structuring and we did a lot of networking, but I would say it’s more of a stepping stone than a destination,” Roger said. “The number of investors [though] — we wouldn’t have been able to meet otherwise.”
According to TMP Director Bob York, past winners’ success after the competition and the number of students hired by sponsoring companies speak to the event’s ability to foster business connections between students and successful executives and investors from the community.
“There are companies here tonight that are ready to hire students,” York said. “If [students] don’t start their own businesses, they’re going to be offered a chance to join [other] businesses.”
Arshad Haider, a fourth-year biopsychology major and member of Brightblu, said his team plans to take their venture past NVC but remains concerned about the possibility of the unique product being bought out by a larger company.
“We’re looking to start this for real,” Haider said. “We’re going to be presenting the first app store for your home.”
According to TMP Entrepreneurial Advisor Craig Cummings, the quality of the services offered by NVC remains unmatched in the business realm.
“The interesting thing about this is that they don’t offer a degree — all you get is a certificate. So why’re they here?” Cummings said. “They’re getting something you can’t get anywhere else. Where else in the world could you interact with successful entrepreneurs — really off-the-scale successful — for free?”
TMP formerly provided marketing and entrepreneurship courses through the College of Engineering for free but began charging by the unit this year.