YES awards $51K in annual business-plan competition

Though their ideas are still in their beginning stages, participants in this year’s Yale Entrepreneurial Society Y50K Business Plan Competition may be on their way to becoming promising leaders in the business and nonprofit sectors.

Teams proposing business models for engine-sensor technology and software applications for rural health workers walked away with the first place awards in this year’s “For-Profit” and “Social Entrepreneurship” competitions, respectively. The weekend’s events also included a banquet and speech by ABC 20/20 anchor and consumer reporter John Stossel.

The goal of the Y50K Business Plan Competition — Yale’s annual business plan competition sponsored by YES — is to provide an opportunity for students and faculty looking to start for-profit or nonprofit organizations. A total of $51,000 is awarded annually to teams that come up with the most innovative, socially beneficial and practical business plans.

For participants, the contest may serve both as a preview of their first real businesses as well as a potential take-off platform for their future careers, organizers said.

Kicking off with team registration March 1 and progressing to the first round of selection at the end of March, the competition drew to a close this past weekend with the final round, which consisted of the 16 finalists’ live presentations of their business-plan models.

The final round of the competition started Saturday morning, when all the contestants and judges gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall. The eight presentations each in the “For-profit” and “Social Entrepreneurship” competition categories took place in two separate rooms, each with four to six judges — experienced entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, law professionals and patent experts. Each team had 10 minutes for a presentation and two minutes for questions and answers. After each presentation, the room had to be cleared for judges to discuss and decide.

Besides speeches, the teams used Powerpoint, live demonstrations and brochures to bring their ideas to life and win over the judges.

While other groups were presenting, some contestants paced back and forth outside of the room, waiting and pondering their performances.

“I think they liked my idea, but [the judges] seemed almost too nice to me,” contestant Joshua Tan ’09 said.

At three in the afternoon, the judges announced the long-anticipated result. The Award Announcement Ceremony was hosted by current YES President Marty Rod ’08 and Y50K competition director Joseph Walker ’09, who was announced as the next president of YES at the ceremony.

The winner for the “For-Profit” division — and the accompanying $12,000 — was jetEye Technologies. The team was composed of three members: Yulee Newsome SOM ’09, along with teammates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Eric Cohen, an alum, and Stephen Bathurst from the School of Engineering. They came up with the idea of melting a sensor into engines and installing into computers corresponding software that can keep track of the sensor. The sensor senses the vibration of the engine blades and draws graphs on computer. By comparing the data collected with the data drawn from the engine’s normal working conditions, the system can detect deviations of the data and assess the condition of the engine. This system, according to the team, will significantly lower the danger of airplane crashes and any other potential accidents that might be caused by engine damage.

“It will be put into use for military purposes,” team members said during their presentation.

In the “Social Entrepreneurship” group, an award of $12,000 went to the project CHWired. Anup Patel SOM ’08 said the team is dedicated to helping people in remote places achieve health equity and access to treatment resources. Their plan was based on the effort of the World Health Organization’s network of Community Health Workers, citizens locally trained as paramedics in rural, poor regions of the world. CHWired deploys software applications over a cheap Wi-Fi network to help these health workers by connecting them to distant doctors and referral clinics, assisting them in getting trainings, sharing experiences and collecting data.

“We already have the program going on in a village in Nepal, and that’s where the money from this competition will go,” members of the team said after receiving the award.

The remainder of the $51,000 was divided between the second- and third-place teams. Liz Koenig ’09, David Noah LAW ’09 and Kwame Spearman LAW ’09 won the second-highest prize in the “Social Entrepreneurship” category. They launched the “College Acceptance” program that paired Yale students with local high-school seniors in New Haven, having Elis mentor these students who otherwise would get little assistance with their college application process.

“Our money will be used to build our Web site and to find a writer for us to apply to other funding,” Spearman explained. “We always need more volunteers.”

Preceding Saturday’s presentations and announcements of the winners, YES organized a banquet on Friday evening, which featured a talk by Stossel. The audience, nearly half of which comprised students, also included alumni and professionals in business and investments. During his talk, Stossel argued against government interference with the market.

“Take my field as an example — all the television stations get profit from commercials, but they do not simply accept the commercials that come in with the highest price,” he pointed out. “They do review them and choose them. Why? Why do they turn the money down?”

He answered the question by arguing that the television stations know the importance of the quality of the commercials and their effects on the audience. If they accept the commercials with high payment but low quality, in the long run it will create a negative effect on the public image of the television station, therefore hurting its business, he said.

“The process runs itself in a competitive market,” Stossel said. “Competition alone protects the market. By interfering with the market, [the government] do more damage than benefit.”

“It was a good speech,” said contestant Aruna Pawashe, a faculty member in the Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology departments. “I see him on television everyday, and I am not disappointed by this speech at all. I think he made a really good point.”

As the event ended Saturday with applause and positive feedback from the contestants, Rod said he can now retire with satisfaction.

“This event has been going on for nine years,” he said. “Some of the past contestants even come back as judges.”

When asked if he is considering of coming back as a judge, he answered with a smile: “Sure!”

Some of the other contest entries included a company that help small nonprofit businesses do accounting and bookkeeping, a health club that gives lesson in Yoga, Taichi and Dance Dance Revolution to help people release stress and a special technology that uses electricity to control the transparency of materials.

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