Business competition gives $20,000 prize to student-led team

By Lane Song

Microlution and Ambient, Inc. won the Sixth Annual V. Dale Cozad Business Plan Competition, winning $20,000 and $10,000, respectively, to help them bring their business plans to fruition.

The campus competition, which ended Saturday, gave out more than $50,000 in prizes and services. Teams made up of students, professors and experts presented their business plans in front of a panel of judges.

This year, the competition included two categories, an open division and the newly added social division. The social division is driven by a social mission, while the open division is driven by an economic mission, said Tony Mendes, executive director for the Academy of Entrepreneurial Leadership, one of the co-sponsors of the competition.

“A good social mission must be based on a sound business model,” Mendes said. “You have to look for opportunities, rather than just addressing a need.”

The winner in the open division, Microlution, received $20,000, and the winner in the social division, Ambient, Inc., won $10,000.

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Besides the cash prizes, the winners also receive free legal and accounting services, and six months of office space. However, Mendes said, the primary purpose of the competition is not to help finance a startup company.

“Our main goal is to provide experience for the students in creating business plans,” he said. “We also help them compete in other entrepreneurial competitions, and to identify potential investors.”

Jonathan Engel and Saunvit Pandya, graduate students, competed under the team name, Allied Wind, a company that develops sensing systems for wind turbines.

“If we won, we would take advantage of the money and services to help us license applications,” Engel said. “We would still go ahead even if we didn’t win, but at a diminished scale.”

Teams like Mobile Immersion noted that the cash prizes would not go far in the business world.

“Patenting our technology would cost $50-60,000,” said Mike Turner, a senior in Aerospace and part of Mobile Immersion, a digital tracking company. “The most important thing is forming connections, getting publicity and getting feedback from the judges.”

Michael L. Philpott, professor in mechanical and industrial engineering and a judge in the open division, discussed how credibility would be the real prize in the competition.

“Winning a business plan competition means that people are saying ‘this is a good business opportunity,'” Philpott said.

The leaders of Microlution are already looking toward the future.

“We are going to seek some patents, and develop new products with the money,” said Andrew Honegger, graduate student and vice president of Microlution. “And we’ve also learned how to present our plan to other investors.”

The next competition is scheduled to begin in September 2006.