Four student teams won SMU’s annual Big iDeas Business Plan Competition for 2015 on Jan. 30, earning $5,000 startup grants for their innovative projects. Three of the four teams are creating smartphone applications that can improve users’ lifestyles, while one is developing a unique clothing line that benefits education and underprivileged children in the U.S.
“When determining the winners, a lot of it is based on the judges’ personal experiences with business,” said Tami Cannizzaro, one of the judges. “What’s going to fly in the real world?”
Following the competition, the winners were granted nine months to move forward with their business plans. In October they will announce their developments to the judges.
“Since we’re giving these students money, they have to go out and do something with their ideas,” Cannizzaro said.
Big iDeas is an undergraduate research program that provides financial support for SMU students who submit proposals that solve key issues facing the Dallas and metropolitan area. For more information on their program contact www.smu.edu/provost/bigideas.
One thing the groups have in common is their ability to communicate successfully within their team and harmoniously execute business ideas.
“The success depends on how well you work with others and your team members,” senior Irisa Ona, who won for the Helpple app, said. “If you really work well together, you can overcome anything.”
Out & About
Juniors Renita Thapa, Sam Hubbard and Raz Friman won the competition for developing an app called Out & About that promotes local businesses and organizations by offering fun things to do and places to visit in the local area.
“My friends and I used to sit on the couch and do nothing when we couldn’t agree on things,” Thapa, the founder and principle investigator of Out & About, said. “We didn’t know what was happening in our community, and that was frustrating, so we wanted to figure out a way to explore Dallas.”
The app focuses on user preferences, Thapa explained. The Out & About team suggests activities and places in your community, and you choose which suggestions you’re interested in. From there, you put them in an organized schedule and send the schedule to your friends. Your friends can edit it, and once everyone agrees, it’s time to go out and explore your community.
It’s hard coming up with fun things to do, and when you do come up with them, they’re not always personalized, said Thapa. This app will change that.
“We aren’t going to suggest sky diving if you’re afraid of heights,” Thapa said. “If you want a Moroccan-themed night, we’ll send you to a belly dancing class.”
Beyond US Clothing
Beyond US Clothing is a for-profit clothing company that partners with charities that focus on underprivileged children and education in the U.S. It offers unique T-shirt designs for each partnership and donates a portion of the sales to the charities.
The founders of Beyond US Clothing, juniors Hunter Rice and JP Buxbaum, originally entered and won the competition two years ago.
“By this point, we have a solid strategy on how we want to move forward, so we felt comfortable reentering the competition,” Buxbaum said.
The students have been spending the last year and a half getting in contact with different businesses, Rice explained. For example, a business will come to them asking for 500 shirts of a certain design, and Beyond US Clothing will sell the shirts to the company at wholesale. This puts the Beyond US Clothing team in a better financial position so that they’re able to put more money into inventory and marketing.
The two students started the company because they both enjoy being philanthropic and doing good for their community, in addition to their interest in clothing and fashion, Rice said.
“The T-shirts are made from really nice materials, so they’re high-quality and fashionable,” Rice said. “We’re trying to create a trend.”
Beyond US Clothing currently teams up with The Boys and Girls Club and United Way, but they plan to partner with many more charities in the near future, Buxbuam said.
Irisa Ona, Austin Wells (junior), Carly Kubacak (senior) and Spencer Kaiser (graduate student) won the competition for creating Helpple. The app connects people who need help with people offering help, from tutoring services to moving furniture.
The Helpple team is focusing on building its presence on college campuses before expanding to outside communities. The app will be geo-fenced in the college’s campus, and you will have to enter a school login in order to use it.
“This app is very community-centered,” Ona, the designer and researcher for Helpple, said. “We believe it will be a nice channel to build community within the campus.”
In addition to it building community, it’s easy money for college students, and it gets things done, Ona said. The two parties come to their own agreement on pay.
Ona has some advice for other SMU students with big ideas:
“Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from trying,” Ona said. “This may not work, but at least we tried.”
Biolum Sciences is an imaging system for smartphones that works to detect the presence and severity of asthma in chronic patients, reducing the current 40 percent of misdiagnosis of the disease in the U.S.
“We all grew up with asthma and know first hand how frustrating it is to go through the long and painful process of diagnosing and treating asthma,” Miguel Quimbar, sophomore and Biolum Sciences’ CTO, said. Quimbar spoke for his team members, Jack Reynolds (senior) and Edward Allegra (junior). “When we came across the idea, we recognized how big of an impact our device could have on the daily life of an asthmatic.”
While growing up, there was no way to monitor his airway inflammation, Quimbar said. By the time he realized he needed an inhaler, he was already experiencing the symptoms of an asthma attack.
“Having our device would have allowed me to catch an asthma episode at it onset and use my inhaler before more serious symptoms appeared,” Quimbar said. “We all strongly believe in our mission to improve the lives of asthmatics, and our device is a huge step in making life with asthma more manageable.”
The three students established their business idea in March 2014 for the TCU Business Plan Competition on behalf of SMU’s Entrepreneurship Club.
“We received some great feedback from investors and app developers, so we decided to take the project and run with it,” Reynolds, the CFO and COO of Biolum Sciences, said.
The team has won six different business plan competitions and pitches over the past 10 months, Reynolds said, the most recent (and largest) being SMU’s MBA competition, where they won $37,050.
“You have to go into every competition with the mindset that you are going to win,” Reynolds said. “If you don’t have that mindset, you’ve already lost before you’ve even begun.”