The Y50K Entrepreneurship Competition Awards Gala was every bit as exciting as the Superman posters advertising it suggested, at least for the MEMStar and Elmseed Enterprise Fund teams, who emerged as winners.
The Yale Entrepreneurial Society-sponsored contest is unlike most business-plan competitions. In addition to the standard for-profit category, it includes a social entrepreneurship category, for which teams must have a charitable mission.
Ninety-two teams of Yale-affiliated entrepreneurs submitted plans, more than twice last year’s figure — making this year’s winners “the best of the best,” YES President David Pozen ’02 said.
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced Elmseed’s victory in the social entrepreneurship category at the gala, and team member Gabriel Kuris ’03 jumped to his feet screaming, “Yes!”
Kuris was excited because he knew what the victory meant for his start-up, the only proposal submitted entirely by undergraduates.
Elmseed, founded by Kuris, Kitty Harvey ’03, James Choy ’03 and Nowshad Rizwanullah ’03, plans to use microcredit to provide loans for aspiring entrepreneurs among New Haven’s poor.
The $10,000 in prize money and same amount in business-sponsored service prizes will be enough to start the company this August, Kuris said.
“Now you’re stuck. Now you’ve actually got to do it,” contest judge and Boston entrepreneur David Friend told the team after the gala.
MEMstar team member Abigail Lubow ’02 said the win was about more than money for her team, the victor in the for-profit part of the competition.
MEMStar was created by Lubow, Mark Meras ’01, Rameez Saleh ’02 and James Klemic, a postdoctoral associate. It plans to bring consumers devices with micro-electromechanical systems technology, known as “MEMS.”
Ludow said the $15,000 in prize money and equal amount in service prizes would hardly make a dent in the several million dollars needed to start their company.
But Meras said the team hopes to use the publicity from the win to attract investors. The publicity will give MEMStar access to companies and VIPs, in addition to credibility.
“Winning really validates our idea,” Meras said. “Before it was just us who believed in it, and now five people with experience believe too.”
Frank Marco, a lawyer who represents emerging companies, set a lunch date with the team immediately after their win.
Marco, along with nine other entrepreneurs, sat on the panel that evaluated the plans of six finalists in each category Saturday morning.
Contest judge Matt Harris, founder and chief executive officer of Village Ventures, said the ideas he saw were “organic in nature.”
“People weren’t just thinking of the quickest route to a multimillion-dollar corporation, and that’s refreshing,” he said.
However, many proposals “needed to turn around and look at their plans from the outside world,” Harris said.
Keynote speaker Herbert Allison ’65, the former president of Merrill Lynch and the president of the Yale-sponsored University Alliance for Life-Long Learning, compared entrepreneurship to shooting clay pigeons.
“To be successful, you have to aim well ahead of where most people are today,” he said.
Donation Registry and WiredMD Group were runners-up in the social entrepreneurship category. Judges selected OneTrace Inc. and MediCompliance as runners-up in the for-profit section.
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