Yes, but which one was it? On April 22, 2002, eight finalists in the Wharton Business Plan Competition presented their business plans to a panel of six judges, hoping to win the $25,000 Grand Prize – or $15,000 for first runner up or, failing that, $10,000 for second runner up.
The eight finalists were culled from 135 entries comprised of more than 375 participants. All entrants take part in a three-phase process that begins in the fall when students develop a business concept that they submit for appraisal. Phase Two requires a more detailed description of the business concept; at this time 25 semi-finalists are chosen to go on to Phase Three, in which they submit a full business plan to a group of judges. Eight finalists are then selected to make presentations at the Venture Fair. More than 200 venture capitalists, business leaders and students attended the event on April 22.
The competition, now in its fourth year, is open to all students at the University of Pennsylvania. It tends to draw participants from the engineering, law and medical schools, as well as Wharton. This year, for the first time, two $10,000 prizes were awarded for an ‘industry track’ in education.
Each of the Great Eight teams was given 25 minutes to present their business plan and explain why they should win the $25,000. The judges – from J.P. Morgan Partners, APAX Partners, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, CB Health Ventures and Business 2.0 magazine – had an opportunity during the presentations to ask questions.
Without further delay, we offer a summary – in their own words – of the Eight Great finalists, and then announce the winner. (Don’t scroll down.)
In order of appearance:
BondMyAuction: An e-retail risk eliminator and credibility provider that makes online auctions safer for buyers, more profitable for sellers and more efficient for market-makers, like eBay, Yahoo and Amazon.
Located on the web at www.bondmyauction.com, the company totally eliminates the risks for auction buyers; provides credibility for sellers, thereby reducing risk-adjusted discount bids; and improves marketplace liquidity by attracting new users. The target customer is the small retailer selling at least $2,000 per month via online auctions. These sellers present a $250 million addressable market opportunity today and a $1 billion addressable market opportunity in 2006.
“Partial” risk elimination solutions are available but they fail to provide total risk elimination in an efficient, scalable, affordable manner. BondMyAuction eliminates all of the risks that lead to bid discounting and auction avoidance, and gives sellers a tool that provides proof of the seller’s credibility, legitimacy and professionalism to wary buyers.
The company accomplishes this with an established financial instrument – the surety bond – leveraged with proven technology.
BrightPoint Technology: A software company formed to eliminate computational bottlenecks in high-performance applications through the use of a novel software/hardware combination.
The company’s products will enable advances in drug discovery, materials modeling, aircraft and automotive design, financial engineering and other demanding fields by offering dramatic increases in computing power.
High-performance computing requires long processing times to execute a few specialized algorithms. BrightPoint’s product transfers the time-intensive processing from slow general-purpose microprocessors directly onto high-speed digital hardware using the company’s reconfigurable integrated circuits and proprietary software library. Moving these algorithms onto high-speed hardware cuts execution times by a factor of ten or more, raises technical staff and computer productivity and saves millions of dollars in costs.
The company plans to establish strategic partnerships with commercial software developers to provide the accelerated processing solutions directly to existing and emerging high performance computing customers. The total market size for BrightPoint’s products in 2002 is estimated to be about 500,000 installations, representing a total market potential of $1.7 billion growing at a rate of 15% a year.
Envisia Inc.: A company in the field of clinical microscopic imaging technology whose first product is the virtual bone biopsy (VBB) add-on device for existing MRI scanners. Current MRI add-on devices enhance the imaging power of soft tissue; Envisia’s unique competitive strength is its patented ankle and wrist VSS imaging system that enables microscopic imaging and analysis of bone (hard tissue) structure.
This technology will drive the next generation of drugs for osteoporosis and other bone disease, enable early detection of osteoporosis, enable better diagnosis of sports injuries and allow precision follow-up exams.
The current diagnostic method of choice for determining bone ‘quality’ is the DXA scan, which measures bone mineral density but is not an adequate measure of bone fracture risk and involves the use of radiation. The Gold Standard – invasive bone biopsy – is too traumatic for most cases and is costly (approximately $3,000).
The VBB provides, through non-invasive and radiation-free technology, the same detailed structural information as a real biopsy, in the form of a high quality three-dimensional image.
Any institution with an MRI is a potential customer for the VBB. By 2006 there will be 12,820 full-size MRIs in the U.S. alone and 21,600 worldwide. Five patents currently protect the technology, which is based on more than 10 years of research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Radiology.
Jet Technologies Inc.: A manufacturing company that provides proven jet technology solutions initially for the construction industry and later for other sectors. The company has developed a revolutionary new technology for pile driving using an industrial jet engine. The technology is patented and a working prototype has been built.
The company intends to power conventional diesel hammers – used by piledriving companies – with a small-size industrial jet engine system. The additional power will double the speed and energy of percussion and will allow piledriving at large angles. This provides the first major technological advancement for piledriving equipment in 20 years.
The enhanced features are particularly important in large infrastructure projects such as the construction of bridges, highways, ports, docks and other industrial buildings. The most direct benefit to customers would be a cost saving of between 60% and 200% on upgrading to a heavier category of hammers.
The company plans to produce the jet engine systems in Bulgaria due to low production costs and abundance of skilled engineering labor. The marketing, business development and administrative management of the company will be done in the U.S.
Jet Technologies, Inc. will enter the U.S. market by becoming suppliers to U.S. equipment manufacturers.
PharmaKinetix: An early-stage biopharmaceutical company developing bio-nanotechnology therapeutics for treating inflammatory diseases. Its initial product focus is on its lead compound, PKA01, for mild or moderate persistent asthma. This compound is expected to reach the market in 2007.
PharmaKinetix will use a two-part commercialization strategy. First, it will out-license its experimentally validated new compounds to gene therapy companies. Second it will develop its lead compound, PKA01, for asthma and other inflammatory diseases.
It is targeting the $10+ billion inflammation market, and appeals to three customer groups: patients, physicians and pharmaceutical companies. PKA01 may also be effective for other inflammatory conditions such as nasal allergies, arthritis, ocular inflammation and dermatoses, achieving a total revenue of over $500 million.
The company’s chief scientific officer invented and validated PharmaKinetix’s technology as part of a PhD in bioengineering at Penn. There is the potential to create a strong patent position on core technology and lead compounds. The company’s PKA01 for asthma will compete most directly with other steroids, several of which are nearing the end of their patent life.
Q Systems: A provider to small and midsize credit unions (under $100 million in assets) of affordable and reliable customer relationship management and call center technology that can be customized to integrate with their core banking system.
In October 2001, the Credit Union National Association, a national lobbying organization, presented a list of the top 10 core functions in which they believe their member institutions should invest heavily to better compete. The Q System’s interact platform provides credit unions with 7 of these 10 core functions in an easy-to-use and affordable solution. While a number of companies claim to offer some of this core functionality, Credit Union magazine reports the common frustration of smaller credit unions that “current products have limited capabilities, are too complex, too expensive, or all of the above.”
Using tested open source technologies, Q Systems has created a software based approach to provide reliable CRM and call center solutions. The platform has been operating within the University of Pennsylvania Student Federal Credit Union since September 2001 where it has dramatically reduced customer services times and improved operating margins for the institution.
RayLink Systems: Develops infrastructure software for diagnosing and troubleshooting high-end medical systems via the Internet. Its initial product, a first-ever National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) compliant remote servicing access server, is directed at global manufacturers of medical imaging equipment with a combined revenue base of $30 billion.
By preventing costly onsite dispatches and time consuming phone-guided support, remote servicing offers significant opportunities for improvement in availability of magnetic resonance, computed tomography and nuclear medicine scanners. However, a lack of adequate security and access control at the last mile remains a major hurdle towards the adoption of remote servicing by health care providers.
As a result of industry-wide collaboration, NEMA has endorsed a new architecture for remote servicing of medical equipment. That creates a unique opportunity for RayLink Systems to provide a last-mile solution that may become the remote servicing standard in a $4.5 billion medical equipment support market. RayLink targets this rapidly growing segment with a customer-driven solution leveraged by its experience in computer networking as well as emerging relationships with leading industry players.
Sterling Pharmaceuticals: Has discovered and developed a next generation biocompatible, elastomeric resin for the treatment of Stage I through Stage III wounds, including first and second degree burns. The flexible formulation allows the Woundstar platform technology to meet multiple therapeutic needs while reducing costly and time-intensive processes such as debridement.
The product represents an improvement for patients because it significantly reduces the pain and scarring typically associated with moderate to severe wounds. The Woundstar product is a platform technology because it is a compound that can be formulated to meet a number of very specific therapeutic needs.
The ability to provide a wound dressing with variable adhesion, elasticity, moisture transfer, debridement and anti-infective properties allows the company to pursue markets in multiple therapeutic areas.
The Winner’s Circle
After closed-door consultation, the judges chose the following teams: Envisia for the $25,000 Grand Prize; Q Systems for the First Runner Up and BrightPoint for Second Runner Up.
Matt Pickens, a first-year Wharton MBA student, said he thinks his team and Envisia won for two reasons: “One, we have an innovative technology that is proprietary and patented; and two, osteoporosis presents a huge market opportunity because it is a major public health threat. According to the National Institutes of Health, 50% of all women and 12% of men will have an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime, at a cost of $15 billion a year.”
Their technology is in a prototype stage and is currently being tested in six trials, mostly at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, Envisia has collaborated with, and is receiving funding from, several large pharmaceutical companies who are interested in information about bone structure and strength.
The Envisia team intends to launch its product in 2005 in Sweden, a country that has relatively low regulatory barriers and high rates of osteoporosis (caused mainly by differences in diet).
“Our technology makes use of unique processing algorithms that transform data into a highly detailed 3-D model of the bone architecture, which means you can actually do a lot of different analysis on the structure, the quality and ultimately the strength of the bone,” Pickens says.
The market for their product, he adds, is approximately $1.25 billion this year. And although the cost of this type of procedure will be higher than the current DXA screening method, the company expects to qualify for some level of reimbursement from Medicare
Pickens is a first-year student in Wharton’s health care MBA program who has had six years of experience in the medical products field and also spent a year launching a start-up. The Envisia team also includes Byron Gomberg, a PhD candidate and researcher; Eileen Stephens, a first-year MBA student who holds an engineering degree and has six years experience in product development, and Onne Ganel, a lawyer and also a first-year MBA student.
Jay Haverty, team leader for second-place winner Q Systems, was especially gratified to come in second, partly because his was the first undergrad team to make the finals. “I think we did well because our product is fairly far along and it has already been installed in an institution and has resulted in really significant productivity increases and cost savings.”
He describes their product – targeted at the 9,553 small-to-medium sized credit unions that make up their market – as a “software-based call center program that can run on a desktop or a laptop. It’s very easy to use; you don’t need to learn any command prompts or special languages. Just point and click.” Basically, he says, customers call in and say they have a certain type of problem, such as an address change. That takes about 30 seconds to fix, but an ATM dispute or fee dispute has to be handled by another financial institution, “so it is a much longer process. This call center program organizes the information” so that the credit union employee can easily share it with other institutions or managers who are necessary to getting the problem solved.
At the University of Pennsylvania Credit Union, where this product has been installed, “we have already seen dramatic results,” Haverty says. Resolution of ATM disputes now takes 3 days rather than 28; fee disputes take less than 2 days rather than 14, and check clearing problems take two days to resolve as opposed to 16.
“We are dealing with an attractive, underserved market,” he says, adding that their marketing plan includes making live demonstrations to credit unions, participating in trade shows and setting up partnerships with trade associations, among other initiatives.
Haverty and team member Nitin Sikka are both five-year undergraduates; the third team member, Hal Goltz, is a Wharton sophomore.
Both of the two winners had already received outside recognition: Envisia is a finalist in the MBA Jungle Business Plan Challenge and Q Systems received the $7,000 Glockner Award for undergraduates.