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College of Business Alumni Come Together for Competition

A bank executive, a corporation founder, three vice presidents, a CEO, a venture capitalist, and a company president gave up a weekend in the cold of March to gather at the College of Business.  The goal of these high-powered JMU alumni  was not to increase stock prices or make quarterly earnings, but to judge the first ever Business Plan Competition. Their goal was to promote the entrepreneurial spirit that has led each of them to a path of financial gain and career success.

"The main thing for students is for them to realize that an entrepreneurial career is possible," said Don Rainey ('82), a venture capitalist for Intersouth Partners, who served as the lead judge. Seven judges provided input on the competition, gave advice to the students and even donated part of the scholarship money. The judges included:

 

Rainey, who before joining Intersouth, was president of Attitude Network, one of the first entertainment networks on the Internet, which was sold in 1999 for $49 million;

 

Steve Boehm ('78), executive vice president and general manager of Wachovia Direct Access, whose group handled 150 million customer interactions in 2002;

 

Dan Carayiannis ('78), the vice president of sales at Intellitactics, a security software start-up firm in Toronto, Canada;

 

Eric Major ('91), who was co-founder and CEO of American OsteoMedix Corporation, a successful medical device company started in 1998 with $200 that was sold to Interpore Cross International for $25 million in July 2001;

 

Rich Masterson ('82), chairman and CEO of Masterson Development, has 20 years of entrepreneurial experience in technology, advertising and real estate;

 

John Rothenberger ('88), founder and president of Strategic Enterprise Solutions Inc., in Reston, Va.; and

 

Mike Thomas ('76), vice president of the Imagery and Geospatial Solutions Line of Business within Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems.

 

"For me, it was an opportunity to give back," said Carayiannis. "It is amazing to see how talented some of these kids are. I know some company executives who couldn't do what these kids have done."

The competition began in the fall when students who had taken COB 300 the innovative business class that combines four disciplines in one 12-hour class -- were invited to submit the plans developed in the spring, summer or fall of 2002.

"The process really gives them the chance to see what it takes to start a business," Major said. "It's giving them the larger perspective of what business is really about."

Fourteen teams were then selected to compete in a preliminary competition. From those, five teams were chosen to give 20-minute presentations before the panel of judges.

In March, each of the five finalist teams presented the highlights of their companies -- how they would make money, how the business could grow, what some of the obstacles may be and what competition may already exist.

"I've never worked for anything this hard in my life," said Kate Maggi of The Avenue group, which proposed opening a rental evening gown store in Lexington, KY.

The Avenue won first place in the competition, which offered each of the five finalist teams scholarship money. It was the first step in a plan to obtain enough funding to endow scholarships and make the competition an annual event.

Other business plans included Pet Palace (fourth place), a full-service pet resort; Interlink (fifth place, a home networking company; Campus Eye (second place), which offers marketing services for universities in the form of a compact disc; and MechTech (third place), which employs PDAs to provide a wireless solution to auto sales and repair businesses.  Campus Eye won a special team award. All team scholarships -- ranging from $3,500 for first place down to $250 for fifth place -- were divided among team members. Each MVP received $1,500.

Jennifer Wange, senior accounting major, of The Avenue, and Jarrett Gold of the Mech Tech Presentation were given MVP awards.

The lesson for students in the competition was that the students can use their passion and intellect to make entrepreneurial dreams a reality, said Rainey.

"Don't be afraid to pursue your business dreams," Rothenberger said. "Without that initiative and pursuit you don't have new business."

The judges commended all the students for their hard work and encouraged them to take their talents into the "real" business world.

"Realize that about 85 percent of people in business are exceptionally average," Boehm said. "So if you have a vision and a passion, you can do something great. Don't let the naysayers talk you out of it."

 

By Donna Dunn ('94)

Photos by Casey Templeton ('05)