Business competition wins students helpful funds

RPI hopes to promote entrepeneurship among students through educational opporunities and resources

Last Wednesday, February 26, 11 student teams gathered to pitch their business proposals at RPI’s annual Business Model Competition. The Lally School of Management has hosted this event for three years, with the help of the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship, an on-campus organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship among RPI students through educational opportunities and resources. This year’s business models were presented to a panel of judges comprised of RPI faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. Judges chose the top three submissions in both graduate and undergraduate divisions.

Undergraduate winners Zoe Konrad ’14 and Daniel Campros ’14 proposed a collaborative storytelling platform named Gapelia with the hopes of reviving the world of publishing. Gapelia’s aim is to “create a coffee table book, but digital” said Konrad. It was assumed that travel bloggers would provide Gapelia’s biggest market, but more interest has been received from owners of printed publications, such as peer-to-peer scholarly journals, who are eager to move to a digital format.

Graduate students Daniele Gallardo and David Menicovich took first place in the graduate category with Actasys, an active flow control device designed to reduce aerodynamic drag and increase fuel efficiency on ground vehicles. To test a working prototype of their device, Actasys is seeking another $400,000 on top of their recent award of $500,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. On Friday, the team followed up their RPI victory by winning the regional Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge at NYU. The team will be off to the final round in Bentonville, Arkansas in April. Way to go guys!

While first place winners left with $4,000 worth of funding each, second and third place winners took home $2,500 and $1,000 respectively. Among the runner-ups projects included a trip planning application, an all-carbon lithium battery, a handgun locking mechanism, and a biomolecule used to eliminate disease causing pathogens while preventing the build-up of drug resistance in the their target. Each team was given 10 minutes to present their business model, including a detailed strategy for sales, marketing, internal operations, and expected finances.

This was an evolution from last year’s competition, which required contestants to develop a business plan rather than model. This change in focus was intended to emphasize the importance for new entrepreneurs to take action over planning. “The best way to learn entrepreneurship is by engaging in the best practices of being an entrepreneur,” explained Jason Kuruzovich, academic director of the Severino Center. “These practices recommend ‘getting out of the building’ to speak with customers and to understand their need.”

The Business Model Competition is designed to assist and inspire students at every step in the entrepreneurial process. The Severino Center hopes to create an environment that will encourage taking the first step of turning an idea into a business model, while also helping ventures that are already established toward their next milestone with over $15,000 in awards. No matter the level of accomplishment, all new businesses stand to improve from the workshops, customer interviews, coaching, feedback, and live practice sessions that are offered through this program. This host of resources is designed to prepare participants for the range of annual business plan competitions coming up in the spring.

What to get involved in Entrepreneurship? Check out the following things going around campus.

Startup Tech Valley, (Wed. 3/5, 4/2, 5/7, 5:30–7:30 pm, Brown’s Brewing Company-Revolution Hall). Come hear from four local startup founders to both get inspirited and meet like-minded innovators. www.startuptechvalley.org

Foundry-RPI (Tues. 3/18, 3/25, 4/8, 4/15, 4/22, 4/29, 6–7:30 PM, Rensselaer Union Games Room). For the entrepreneurs on campus and others who want to help them to succeed. Come obtain feedback, mentorship, and food! See scte.rpi.edu.