With the troubles plaguing Enron Corp. and Arthur Andersen of late, not to mention the state of the nation’s economy, it seems like the last thing anyone would want to do is start a company.
But that is exactly what the 55 entrants in the Yale Entrepreneurial Society’s Y50K competition wanted to do. And with thousands of dollars in prize money and support services, that is exactly what the six winning teams in the third annual contest will do.
The winners of the Y50K competition were announced Saturday afternoon as part of YES’ first annual Innovation Summit. The winners in each of the two categories, for-profit and social entrepreneurship, will each receive $12,500, and the two runners-up in each category will receive $6,250. In addition to the monetary prize, all winners and runners-up receive support services to aid them in getting their businesses off the ground.
The winner of the for-profit category was Sensory Media, a software company introducing a product for eye-wear retailers that would enable customers to try on eye-wear virtually.
The winner of the social entrepreneurship category was the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project, an advocacy group that will used video-based media to educate youths about their rights and advise them on how to deal with police officers. Members of the group were Laura McCargar ’02, Gabriel Banker-Plotkin, Homer Robinson LAW ’02, Nina Rabin LAW ’03 and Samuel Davidoff LAW ’03.
YES President Julian Revie ’02 said he was impressed by this year’s entries, and attributed the increased quality of entries to the full year of educational programs YES has instituted to help entrants develop their plans.
“This year’s pool of winners is much, much stronger than what we’ve had in past years,” Revie said. “It’s taken us a while to develop the competition and the educational programs. This year’s entrants were much better prepared.”
Ben Silbermann ’03, a member of Sensory Media, said the support provided by YES was invaluable.
“They bring in a lot of resources,” he said. “They give you feedback. It’s really a positive experience for all the participants.”
Revie said the majority of past winners have formed companies that still exist in one form or another, although many have moved out of New Haven or merged with other companies.
Although a number of schools have similar competitions, YES’ competition is unique in featuring a social entrepreneurship category, where businesses must be nonprofit or have a charitable mission.
“We define entrepreneurship very broadly,” Revie said. “We really don’t focus on starting profitable businesses. We focus on the development of entrepreneurial ideas.”
This year’s Y50K competition was held in conjunction with YES’ Innovation Summit, a two-day conference held at the Law School that featured a wide range of speeches and panel discussions.
“The purpose was to bring together leading thinkers and innovators, people who are thinking outside the box,” said Amy Jain ’04, YES’ vice president of public relations.
The conference featured panels on topics as diverse as bioterrorism, medicine, artificial intelligence, the global economy and education. Jain said the goal was to bring together different perspectives on the same panel, with panelists including CEOs, professors, researchers and journalists, among others.
YES modeled its Innovation Summit on similar conferences held at other schools. A total of 451 people from 21 states and four countries attended the summit, Revie said.
“The conference was really well-attended, and it went really well,” Jain said. “But next year we’re going to try to get more Yale people involved.”