Student ventures take $20,000 in prizes
By Matthew Mc Nierney, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, April 6, 2012
Delos Chang ’14 said he has found the next big thing in social networking — rage comics. These short form, emotionally expressive and easy-to-create comics made popular by internet subcultures like Reddit and 4chan are typically considered nothing more than humorous diversions. Speaking to a crowd of more than 50 students, faculty and Dartmouth alumni on Thursday night in the same room in which John Pepper ’91, Tu ’97 first presented his business plan for Boloco, Chang convinced a panel of five judges that rage comics warranted first place in the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Society’s second annual business plan competition.
Four months ago, Chang founded Memeja, a company that combines accessible rage comic creation tools with an online community, compelled by the belief that these comics may “redefine the way that people interact through social networks.”
The $15,000 prize awarded to Chang’s company came from a pool of $20,000 raised by DES from a number of Dartmouth alumni interested in increasing entrepreneurship at Dartmouth, according to Matt Ross ’15, a member of the organization’s executive board.
The panel of judges — comprised of a current Tuck School of Business student and Dartmouth alumni active in entrepreneurship, including Pepper and Bill Hellman ’80, a partner at Greylock Ventures — said that the decision was not easy. Each of the five finalist companies “had its merits” and solved very different problems, Hellman said.
“We were not comparing apples to apples by any stretch of the imagination,” he said.
Spiral-E Solutions, a company founded by Alison Stace-Naughton ’11, won the $3,000 second-place prize for its prototype of a medical device that helps keep the stomach in place during endoscopic surgery.
Stace-Naughton said she developed the first prototype for the device in an undergraduate engineering class at Dartmouth and has since created about 15 iterations of the design with help from professors at the Geisel School of Medicine.
She said she will continue to seek funding for her project and needs more than $200,000 to fund the animal testing required for the device’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
Hoping to integrate location data and augmented reality technology into mobile games, Puddleworks, founded by Terrance Bei ’13, received the third place prize and $2,000 for the company.
Bei distributed early proof-of-concept demos for two games and said he hopes to use strong company branding to create customer loyalty for the characters in the games.
First created during a conversation with a friend during Bei’s sophomore summer, Puddleworks now employs 10 undergraduate students, six of whom attend Dartmouth.
Edizon, an online platform for recent college graduates to build a portfolio of short-term work experience founded by Dexter Zhuang ’13, and GoContribute, a website that facilitates group payments founded by Adam Siedlecki ’14, Ellian Liche ’14 and Yeunun Choo ’14, both received honorable mentions.
Adams said the student turnout for the competition was “much better” than last year, in part because of the increased prize money. Approximately 60 student companies submitted their proposals for consideration by the panel of Tuck students that selected the finalists, according to Adams.
In addition to the prize money, the top three companies receive automatic entry into Greener Solutions, the broader business plan competition offered annually by Tuck, according to DES co-president Cole Adams ’13.
Finalists said that exposure and validation of their companies, rather than the prize money, marked their primary motivations for entering the competition.
Instead of investment, the five companies are running on “sweat equity,” a term used both by Bei and members of the judging panel to describe the founders’ long hours of work on their projects without pay.
Not receiving first place means nothing more than a “bruised” ego, Bei said.
“We’re all competitive,” he said. “Naturally, we all want to come in first.”
The increase in the funds available for the business plan competition comes at a time of increased overall entrepreneurial efforts by Dartmouth undergraduates, according to Ross. Although Dartmouth students have typically been more interested in investment banking, more have begun considering the “riskier” route of starting their own companies, he said.
Ross said he is currently working on creating an organization called Mitosis that will provide mentorship to campus CEOs and help them find funding for their ventures. Since sending a campus-wide email about the creation of the organization’s student board, approximately 65 students have expressed interest, according to Ross.