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C2V competition grooms next generation of entrepreneurs

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business plan contest winners

The winning team — MBA candidates Himanshu Sharma and Areli Castañeada and medical student-MBA candidate Benjamin Preyss — make their presentation to judges. They won $7,000 in prizes.

Photo: Julie Jaidinger

Capitalizing on an idea that has both simplicity and compassion, a team of graduate students took three top awards at the annual Concept2Venture Business Plan Competition on campus.

The three-member team took home the $5,000 first prize in the graduate division, a $1,000 prize for nonbusiness majors and the $1,000 Best Social Venture prize in the Dec. 14 contest in Student Center East.

Their winning plan, developed in a social entrepreneurship course, centers on a faith-based community health center in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.

“We deeply cared about our business and its potential and that came through in every aspect of the competition,” said Benjamin Preyss, a fourth-year medical student and MBA candidate who is executive director of the New Life Community Health Center.

Other members of the New Life team include first-year MBA candidate Himanshu Sharma and second-year MBA candidate Areli Castañeada.

Maija Renko, assistant professor of managerial studies, taught the social entrepreneurship course and served as the winning team’s project mentor.

“I was not totally surprised by the team’s win,” Renko said. “I have seen quite a few business plans and presentations and the package that this team put together was stellar.”

Preyss says one of the team’s biggest challenges was to articulate two overriding messages in a clear and powerful way.

“The challenge was to communicate that there was this great need in the community that wasn’t being met, and that New Life Community Health Center was indeed a viable solution, both financially and operationally,” he said.

The competition has divisions for graduate and undergraduate teams. All UIC students, not just business majors, are eligible to participate, including executive MBAs.

Before the competition, teams submit business plans of up to 20 pages and financial data including a five-year, pro-forma cash flow statement.

Each team gets 15 minutes to present its business plan, followed by a 20-minute question-and-answer session with judges, who include entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors.

Sharma, New Life’s director of business affairs, said diversity was one of his team’s strong points.

“Our team was made up of people from different races, religions and languages, but those different perspectives helped create wonderful synergies during the venture,” he said.

“Passion and simplicity were two pillars to our success,” he added.

“Our simple plan to open a community clinic at an opportunistic time where a great community need exists was not the most innovative or ground-breaking one. But the way we laid it out with layman’s language really impressed the judges.”

The team plans to use the prize money for fundraising and developing community support, with the hope of opening its doors to patients in about a year.

A simple idea can go a long way, Preyss said.

“It’s also a plain testament to our team’s hard work throughout the year. We spent quite a few long nights and weekends working on this project and I think every ounce of that effort mattered in the end.”

Other prizewinning teams at C2V included:
• Exciton Systems, new renewable energy sources based on conversion of waste industrial heat into electricity using thermoelectric processes, $2,000 second place in the graduate division and the $1,000 Sustainability Award

• The College Market Place, a web-based company that helps UIC students find valuable information for their everyday college lives, $5,000 for first place in the undergraduate division

• Alvar Management International, a full-service sports agency that provides advice, representation and management to soccer players worldwide, $2,000 for second place in the undergraduate division

• CabTracker, a patented information ranking technology to resolve challenges experienced by taxi passengers and drivers, $1,000 prize for the Best Elevator Pitch Award (a two-minute pitch of the team’s concept to a panel of judges on the day of the competition).

First held in 2005, C2V is sponsored by the College of Business Administration, the Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Liautaud Graduate School of Business, in collaboration with the Office of Technology Management.


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