Budding entrepreneurs take on Business Plan Competition

Droves of men and women donned suits, packing into Duques Hall Friday to discuss ideas ranging from medical technology to a tooth-brushing phone application to D.C.’s first kombucha brewery.

This past Friday was the final round of the GW Business Plan Competition, in which eight groups of student finalists competed for a $25,000 first-place cash prize.

This year’s winners, graduate student Adam Corman and professor Neal Sikka, developed Sonostik, a set of products that help hospitals conduct emergency ultrasounds at patients’ bedsides.

The duo said their process necessitated more than business acumen.

“It’s creative at every step. Starting with trying to solve a real-world problem, conceptualizing, designing, prototyping, iterating the solution and developing a way to market and sell the product,” Sikka said.

Ray Marcovici, a 2010 finalist and graduate student, also credits the competition with offering him a creative outlet and a chance to explore his medical passions.

Marcovici developed ScentShots, a series of medical-style air fresheners that have been clinically shown to reduce hospital patients’ pain.

“It was…a little bit of an escape for me. I wanted to do something different – be creative – which isn’t always there, especially in the first two years of medical school,” Marcovici said.

Adjunct entrepreneurship professor John Rollins started the competition six years ago. Other universities like Harvard, Tufts and Rice also host similar business plan competitions.

Rollins felt a business competition would equip GW students with substantive networking resources to propel their own entrepreneurial pursuits.

“I’d been teaching the undergraduate entrepreneurship course here for about seven years, and all my students – about 30 each semester – wanted to start a business, and there was really no support network on the campus to help people start a business,” Rollins said.

In the intensive months of development before the finals, the competitors are matched with mentors and meet with GW alumni for advice.

Sikka lauded the competition’s collaborative nature.

“I think creating something new is really hard,” Sikka said. “There are lots of people on campus and associated with GW that can help you along the way. If we want to be successful, we will need to leverage all those resources, recognizing our expertise and our limitations so we can bring the outside expertise we need to our team.”

Though the over-sized checks – which range from $1,000 to $25,000 – are alluring prizes, many finalists said the competition was an invaluable experience itself.

“I would have done this without the money, the amount of education and mentoring I got along the way,” explained finalist Kay Bransford, whose product MemoryBanc helps dementia patients organize financial and personal assets. “The amount of assistance from the GW alums and people involved with the program has really helped.”

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