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Since the dot.com bubble burst more than a decade ago, two popular categories in Wharton’s Business Plan Competition (BPC) have been health care and retail. This year was no exception: E-commerce startups offered products ranging from baby supplies in Brazil to disposable flip flops for public showers. On the health care front, business plans involved devices to improve spinal fusion procedures and blood extraction, as well as a new drug therapy for hay fever.
With more than $115,000 at stake in combined cash prizes and in-kind legal and accounting services, the eight finalists of the BPC presented their pitches on April 27 to a panel of judges and an audience of venture capitalists, business leaders, faculty and students. The competition is open to any student of the University of Pennsylvania and is managed by Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs.
The BPC began last fall when 210 student teams entered the competition, slightly less than last year’s 230 teams, but significantly more than the 162 teams in the 2009 BPC and the 145 teams in 2008. Throughout the course of the year, teams were narrowed down by 235 judges until only the “Great Eight” finalists remained.
The judges at the Venture finals this year included representatives from Karlin Asset Management, Weston Presidio, Quaker BioVentures and Compass Partners. After hearing the finalists’ pitches, the judges had a chance to ask questions that focused on such issues as intellectual property, budgets and product development.
The team judged to have the most viable business plan was named the grand prize winner, receiving the $30,000 Michelson Grand Prize plus $15,000 in legal and accounting services. The second-place winner received $15,000 in cash and $15,000 in legal and accounting services, and the third-place winner received $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in legal and accounting services. A vote by audience members determined the winner of the $3,000 People’s Choice Award.
Below are summaries of the eight business plans. The winners are listed at the end of the article. Don’t peek.
Baby.com.br: What’s the one thing you always seem to need more of when you have a baby? In addition to sleep, the answer for many new parents is diapers — along with countless other baby supplies. However, in Brazil, where 86% of the population lives in urban areas, running out for a simple errand like buying diapers can be quite a challenge. Many stores have inventory management issues, often requiring parents to visit several shops in search of baby supplies. Combine that with some of the world’s worst traffic and a 170% increase in e-commerce spending in the last two years, and Brazil is quite an attractive location for an online baby market, according to team leader Davis Smith.
Smith, a second-year Wharton MBA student and experienced entrepreneur, is following the business model of Diapers.com in the U.S., which was recently sold to Amazon for more than $545 million. Babies.com.br currently has seven employees on the ground in Brazil and is ramping up to launch its web site in the next two months. Projecting $130 million in sales within five years, the company has already raised $4.3 million from VCs and angels both in the U.S. and Brazil. In addition to being a participant in Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program, the team recently won the business plan competition at Harvard Business School, where Smith’s business partner (and cousin) Kimball Thomas is an MBA student.
BOSS Medical: More than 400,000 patients need spinal fusion procedures in the U.S. each year. The current process for extracting bone from patients to use in these procedures is not only painful, but comes with a lengthy recovery time of up to two years. To address this problem, BOSS Medical is developing a minimally invasive device — called the Boss Harvester — to improve the “harvesting” of bone. The device allows for a gentler extraction procedure using a hollow drill that conforms to the geometry of the pelvic bone.
BOSS Medical is led by a Wharton and Penn Engineering undergraduate student, Abhiraj Modi, in collaboration with a development team of five biomedical engineering graduate students at Johns Hopkins University who are working closely with three leading spinal surgeons from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute. With a prototype in place, they have conducted cadaver testing, and project revenues just under $8 million by 2017. The team is looking to raise $2.5 million for remaining research and development, and plans to establish a sales force.
Cyrano Nasal Sciences, LLC: Congestion, a runny nose, sneezing — these are all symptoms that hay fever sufferers know well. The 65 million Americans with this problem — allergic rhinitis — spend more than $5 billion annually for prescription drugs, oftentimes taking a “cocktail” of allergy medicines. When polled, more than half of these patients say they want a better way to deal with hay fever.
Cyrano Nasal Sciences is commercializing a drug therapy called Rhinox® that is based on a method of applying botulinum toxin (BoNT) in the nose. According to team leader Alexandre Paris, a Wharton undergraduate student, clinical trials have shown that a single intranasal application can eliminate all symptoms of allergic rhinitis for up to five months. Because the therapy is priced below existing treatments, the team believes it can capture approximately 2.5% of the market within six months (after getting FDA approval), making it profitable during its first year. With the technology protected by two patents and an additional six pending, the team is seeking $7 million to obtain a source of BoNT and perform phase II clinical trials.
DictionarySquared: When Wharton Ph.D. student Adam Kapelner didn’t do as well as he had hoped on the verbal section of the GRE, he started thinking about how people learn words. Indeed, he became “obsessed” with this topic and began building an online vocabulary training program based on extensive research. His program mimics the way the brain learns vocabulary by showing words in a variety of contexts. Users not only see a definition of a word, but also a 20-second clip of a movie using that word and a photo capturing the word’s essence.
With the supplemental education market worth $8.2 billion and growing at 18%, Kapelner and his team member, first-year Wharton MBA student Kathryn Schledwitz, plan to market to high school students studying for the SATs, as well as parents of home schooled students. In a beta test with 1,000 high school students, 75% indicated that their vocabulary improved after using the program, and 70% said they felt more confident about taking the SATs. DictionarySquared is a participant in Wharton’s Venture Initiation Program, and Schledwitz noted that the University of Pittsburgh recently applied for a $1 million grant to prove the program’s efficacy and improve its features.
Flipables: While it’s rather gross to think about, team leader Lee Bienstock, a second-year Wharton MBA student, noted that four out of 10 Americans urinate in the shower. This is particularly a problem in public showers, he said, where “nasty” bacteria are brewing on shower floors. Regardless of how often a health club cleans its facilities, it really comes down to who showered just before you. Infections can range from athlete’s foot and fungal infections to MRSA, according to Bienstock.
To solve this problem, Flipables offers a low-cost, biodegradable and disposable sandal designed to be worn by people taking showers in such places as gyms and university dormitories. Consumers can simply throw the sandals out after use — without harming the environment — and not have to stow them wet in their gym bags. Bienstock, who won third-place in the 2010 PennVention contest and was a finalist on NBC’s “The Apprentice” in 2006, noted that there is a large market for his product, including 45.5 million members of private gyms and four million students using university facilities.
Next Generation Phlebotomy: When Wharton MBA alumnus Pitou Devgon was doing his medical residency, it bothered him how many times patients would need to be stuck by needles to draw blood for laboratory tests. Drawing blood through an IV would make more sense, but current IVs are only able to deliver medicines and cannot be used to extract blood. To address this problem, he designed the PhlebCath — a device that integrates with Peripheral IV systems to extract blood for laboratory testing.
Devgon, who was on the winning BPC team in 2009 for NIR Diagnostics, presented with team members Ravi Raghavan and Marc Montserrat, both first-year Wharton MBA students. The team noted that hospital systems spend more than $1 billion each year drawing blood, with nearly 72% of that expense due to inefficiencies in the process. This device would significantly lower the cost of blood extractions, reduce lab errors and improve patients’ experiences, according to the business plan. With Devgon fully owning the IP, the team is looking to raise $500,000 to develop the prototype. They plan to be profitable by 2015 and project sales of $100 million by 2017.
Pledge4Good, LLC: Most people have run a race for charity or have pledged money to someone who has. Pledge4Good offers a new platform for nonprofits to raise funds that combines social gaming, social networking, goal setting theory and mobile check-ins. Users can make online donations to charities, but the pledges will be tied to achievements from everyday life and shared via social networks. For example, a user might make a micro-pledge of $1 every time he gets a birdie while golfing, and encourage friends to match the amount raised. The site will be 100% transparent, clearly showing the portion of each donation that goes directly to the nonprofit.
According to team member Farhad Najam, a first-year Wharton MBA student, using social media effectively is an uphill challenge for nonprofits. They tend to attract followers, but the difficulty is getting donations, including recurring donations. This business offers nonprofits a way to monetize their social media presence and increase donations. Currently, the team — which includes first-year MBA students Vikram Bellapravalu, Frank Chu and Andrew Ward — is completing development of a beta prototype. They plan to open the site to all nonprofits at the end of the year, expanding to include political campaigns in 2012.
Stylitics: It would be ideal if fashion brands and media buyers could instantly track trends. The problem is that analytics in the fashion industry are fragmented and often out of date. They traditionally rely on customers filling out surveys and polls. Stylitics introduces a new generation of tools that can track and analyze actual offline clothing and purchase behavior. By incentivizing customers (with gifts like reward cards) to log what they wear on a daily basis, Stylitics captures up-to-the-minute insights that will make it the “Nielsen for clothing.”
With a large potential market of more than 50,000 prospective clients in the U.S., team leader Rohan Deuskar, a second-year Wharton MBA student, said that the brands he has talked to are excited about Stylitics and are eagerly awaiting its full launch this summer. Establishing a cost to clients of $5,000 a month per license, the company projects $95 million in revenue by 2015. Both Deuskar and his business partner, Zach Davis, are experienced marketers who met when working Vibes Media, a company started by Wharton alumni.
And the Winner Is…
Stylitics won first place. In second place was Next Generation Phlebotomy. Baby.com.br won third place. The People’s Choice Award went to Pledge4Good.
Deuskar said that he plans to move to New York after graduation to work on fundraising for Stylitics and prepare for its upcoming launch. The prize money will help with product development and the hiring of another developer to join their design team. “Since we won, we have been approached by many people — this competition has really opened up a lot of doors for us,” he said.
As for Next Generation Phlebotomy, Devgon said his team is currently working on the prototype for the next step of animal testing. They are considering whether to seek seed funding or bootstrap the cost themselves, but either way, they hope to complete that stage of testing within the next six months.
Smith of Baby.com.br noted that he is moving to Brazil after graduation to work on the business. Having already raised VC funds, the next step is to launch the web site. The prize money will help with that launch, as well as cover moving costs for him and his business partner.
In its 13th year, Wharton’s BPC has helped start a number of successful businesses, including Warby Parker, Kembrel, PetPlan USA, PayMyBills.com, BuySafe, NetConversions, Innova Dynamics and MicroMRI. More than a dozen of the “Great Eight” finalists from the past 10 years are still in business.