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Entrepreneurs earn $10,000 for efforts

Published: Thursday, April 17, 2008

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

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Ryan Joyce

Various BC dance groups performed in O'Neill Plaza in celebration of the third annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

"Everything you do before you're 30 can be forgiven, and failure can be exciting."

Not the typical businessman's credo, but one which Dean of the Carroll School of Management Andy Boynton strives to convey to students through the Boston College Venture Competition.

In its second year, the event provides an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to present business plans, financial statements, and deliver pitches to a distinguished panel of alumni judges. And in typical business fashion, there's a huge incentive involved: Not only do students get invaluable feedback, but also the judges award a total of $15,000 to support the startup companies.

Whittling down the field from 20 teams to just five at Tuesday night's final presentations, the six judges - who come from diverse business backgrounds - selected College Mogul as the winner to receive $10,000. Group Runner, which produces tools to manage the publicity of groups, received $3,000 for second place, and Anaptyx, LLC., a "green" wireless Internet service provider, got $2,000 for third.

Other competitors included myCollegeBody, a health and fitness magazine aimed at the college female demographic, and In Connection - proposed by a team of all freshmen - which forges alliances between students and corporations.

College Mogul, as described by Miles Lennon, one of the founders and a senior at Columbia, "profiles and reviews new and existing companies that are launched by students or recent graduates."

"We heard about our peers starting businesses - thousands of them - but when we researched to find a news site that tracked what people were doing, we couldn't find one," explained Alex Lindahl, another founder and CSOM '08.

Lindahl and Lennon got the inspiration for such a site from their own previous experience with running a startup company, where they had found it useful to track their entrepreneurial progress on a blog. This sparked curiosity in the community, they said, which got them publicity, support, and interest - all crucial elements to a startup's success.

"We also want the site to be a center for entrepreneurs to get resources and to share and bounce ideas," said Henry Khachatryan, another member of the winning group and CSOM '08.

The site has only been live for three weeks, but the trio hopes to expand the idea into more similar sites for specific areas, like fashion, academia, and music. "It will give college students a media portal to showcase their designs," Lennon said, in the case of budding fashion designers, for example. "It's free media that they would otherwise never get."

The same principle could be extended to college students' bands that are currently flying under the radar, he said, or to undergraduates whose writings grapple with critical issues but who do not have the forum to be heard.

The students, who support their site through ad revenue, encouraged inter-university collaboration to get the most out of entrepreneurial skill and potential.

At a panel discussion following the awards' announcement, moderator Paul Jon McNealy, BC '90, explained that the judges looked for sound financial statements, market competition analyses, the possibility of live, tangible results, a well-conceived presentation, and a clear business model. Some, though not all, of the startups had progressed beyond the conceptual stage, though this was not a requirement to enter the competition.

Boynton said that the event allows student exposure to aspects of business they might not have normally considered. "The nature of entrepreneurship requires students to open up to possibilities they never thought of before," he said. "Many CSOM students come to BC with a very narrow track in mind, and they never see this side of the world of business."

Because startups pose so much risk - and often, failure - many students tend toward "safe" corporate America. "This competition offers a fresh vantage point on what the future might hold for them," Boynton said. "It's a look, a reflection on a possible change of direction, which is what BC should encourage.

"The competition is not success-driven; it's a dimension to formation in a different trajectory that includes some risk-taking and the chance of failure," he said.

Each student team is paired with a mentor who reviews their progress and offers feedback, and is required to attend seven events held prior to the competition finals. The learning element integrally supports the monetary incentive, said Jim Luo, a member of the competition's planning team and A&S '09. "We offer workshops, master classes, legal advice, and sessions on 'how-to,' which are especially important for students who are not in CSOM," he said.

"The access to the expertise of the mentors and judges provides an important connection for students," said Eric Hilberg, BC '07, who helped start the competition last year.

Kate Cournoyer, A&S '08, was a member of last year's winning team. Although her company, CampusNites, is currently "on hold," she said she found the process required by the competition to be very worthwhile. She encouraged future participants to "use their mentors for information and to know their businesses well.

"And it's way more work than you expect," she said.

The elements of the competition closely reflect the real-world business processes, Luo said, from the "elevator pitch," in which students must sum up and promote their business in just a few minutes in front of a group of executives, to the competitive market research. "It takes getting to know a company at every stage, from developing the idea into a real product," he said.

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