Pictured above: Dr. Donald E. Gibson, dean of the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, with Frank Serravalli ’13 the winner of the Business Plan Competition.
by Carolyn Arnold
The spirit of competition and innovation was in full force this past April at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business.
This year the school (DSB) hosted the inaugural Business Plan Competition, a new event that seeks to encourage students’ innovative ideas and support the best ones with start-up funds.
The competition was formally announced early in Fall 2011 and was built as a result of a three-year initiative in the DSB’s Department of Management to develop students’ capacities in entrepreneurship, including new courses, a concentration within management, and a new entrepreneurship minor, available to all Fairfield students. The Business Plan Competition, open to all undergraduate students at Fairfield, was developed with significant input and support from the DSB’s Advisory Council.
Dr. Donald E. Gibson, dean of the Dolan School of Business, said “The student teams have done amazing work. We see this competition as a way to draw on the innovation and energy of our students. In the presentations, we saw a variety of creative ideas that can be turned into viable plans for real entrepreneurial businesses.”
To compete, each student or group had to submit a one-page proposal that they then developed into a full-fledged business plan, including market and competitor analyses, leadership plans, funding sources, and full financials.
Hugh Davis ’95, co-founder of reInvention, LLC, and Mary Campbell M.A. ’72, managing director of EDF Ventures, donated the prize money, totaling $12,000. Both are members of the DSB Advisory Council and served as judges in the competition.
This year’s final four (out of 18 proposals) consisted of Mark Hoeplinger ’12, a management major, who created an innovative way to use search engine data to predict economic activity; Stefania Cambanis ’12, an economics and English major in the College of Arts and Sciences, with a proposal named “MC,” an Internet application that deals with fashion; Team Tasteful, a team that created a discovery platform, Web site, and mobile application that curates trustworthy recommendations for restaurants; and Frank Serravalli ’13, an accounting major, who presented “The Winning Trade” a Web and mobile-based financial trading platform game.
The stakes were high: all of the students had spent countless hours developing a comprehensive business plan, consulting with faculty and community mentors. Many teams had already raised or invested money in their ideas and made plans to launch whether or not they won.
The final four presented their 10-minute pitches to an audience of close to 200 and five judges with extensive venture capital and entrepreneurial experience, including Davis, Campbell, Dr. Gibson, Joseph R. Bronson ’70, a member of the Fairfield University Board of Trustees and Principal of the BronsonGroup, LLC, and John Tedesco ’92, president and CEO of Contigo Systems Inc.
Dr. Mukesh Sud, assistant professor of management, was the chairperson of the competition. A successful entrepreneur, Dr. Sud was hired to teach entrepreneurship courses at the DSB. On the evening of the finale he said, “I see this event as a startup. We all hope that it grows and improves…and seeing everyone here tonight, I think the Business Plan Competition is so far very healthy.”
Following the student pitches, audience members mingled and waited in anticipation of the judges’ decision. Once they returned, Dr. Gibson congratulated all of the participants and noted how difficult it was to choose the winner. In the end, Tasteful was awarded second place with $2,000 and The Winning Trade received first prize and $10,000.
Alex Lebow ’12 presented Tasteful on behalf of his teammates Brendan Carr ’12 and Brendan O’Brien ’12. The service Web site will partner with luxury hotels to have their concierges recommend the perfect restaurants for visiting tourists and business professionals. “These types of hotels are desperately looking for new ways to engage users,” Lebow said. Tasteful’s ultimate goal is to establish themselves as a brand on par with the luxury hotels with which they hope to partner.
The winner of the competition was Frank Serravalli ’13, who is seeking to meld the world of finance with the world of online gaming through a real-life simulation game. “This game prepares you for the real world,” Serravalli said. “It allows individuals to come together through the game, create hedge funds, use real-time data, and create performance reports that will prove their skills and set them up for future jobs.”
Dr. Gibson commented, “The four final presentations were excellent. In the end, the judges chose the teams they thought had a combination of the most believable presentation and the best chance to be a viable product in the marketplace.”
The DSB will continue to host the competition each year.
To learn more about the Business Plan Competition or become a mentor to one of the student groups, e-mail email@example.com.