A competitive edge


$75,000 worth of cash and prizes were up for grabs on April 16 at FAU’s second annual Business Plan Competition.

Sixteen student-led teams of finalists each presented a plan for a business that was judged by a panel of business owners and investors. The competition was made up of two categories: plans for existing businesses, and plans for new businesses.

Although the competition is hosted by the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship (ACE) at the Boca campus’s College of Business, the majority of last year’s competitors were not business majors, according to ACE Director Kimberly Gramm.

Gramm explained that the competition is meant to “bring people together, like an engineer with an idea [who] doesn’t know how to write a financial statement.”

The final 16 teams — the “sweet 16,” as Gramm calls them — were chosen based on criteria such as how well they would market and manage their businesses.

Where are they now?

Similar to this year’s competition, the 2009 Business Plan Competition featured two categories: businesses needing more than $1 million to start operating, and businesses needing less than $1 million to do so. Some businesses have fared better than others — Gramm said that 60 percent of last year’s teams are still in business. Still, no team has yet expressed regret about entering the competition. What follows are two examples of winning teams from each of last year’s categories.

“Similar to the way in which Match.com and other dating Web sites match people with their best-suited mates, our concept is similar in that we match people with homes best suited for them,” said Marshall Sklar describing Student Housing Off Campus, a business started by Sklar and other FAU students that helps South Florida college students find apartments close to campus. “Most of our properties are located within two miles of campus, where students are close enough to avoid long commutes, yet far enough away to feel as if they truly have an ‘off campus’ experience.”

Since its creation in 2005, Student Housing Off Campus has helped more than 28,000 students and faculty from FAU and other local colleges find off-campus housing, said Sklar. After winning first place in the category needing less than $1 million last year, Student Housing Off Campus was awarded an office in the FAU Research and Development Park on the Boca campus. But since last year’s competition, Student Housing Off Campus has expanded enough that a new office will open in May in Fort Lauderdale. “We hope to extend our reach to the [Fort Lauderdale] campus through this expansion,” Sklar explained.

Sklar added his thanks on taking part of the competition. “[The Business Plan Competition] gave us much more recognition amongst the FAU community, both on campus and off campus. It financially impacted us by giving our company a boost in revenues that helped us exceed our previous years.”

Freddy Moldt and Jason Langford had the idea to start a Web site called Generation Oxygen that tracks a user’s charity donations and volunteer work. Moldt and Langford won third place in the category needing more than $1 million last year with their idea. Generation Oxygen’s goal is to get young people to continuously donate and volunteer for charities by providing points to increase their humanitarian ranking on its Web site, which is yet to be published.

“Since the competition I have been pursuing investors, computer engineering/science students, building a demo Web site, and competing in further nationwide and global business plan competitions,” said Moldt. Despite his ambitions, Moldt has had only lukewarm support from students. “After requesting help around the College of Engineering I have only found mild interest from students even though I have offered payment and equity.”

Still, Moldt is glad to have entered the competition and is hopeful for the future of Generation Oxygen. He said, “It is a learning process, so there is value in listening to the advice from the judges. … In our case, one of our judges was CJ Wilson, who happened to be an experienced executive in the field of philanthropy. He shot us down and gave us much criticism. … Now that I’ve gone through two competitions with real judges, I feel I’ve gained a better understanding of what investors look for.”

This year’s winners

Portuguese bonbons, vacuum cleaners, Greek Life stores and anti-theft devices for laptops were but a few focal points of this year’s Business Plan Competition. Of the 16 teams present at the competition, seven teams won cash and prizes. The first-place team in the Existing Business category was Slicket Ticket, a so-called stock market of events for which you must buy a ticket, like concerts and sports games. They were represented by Hayden Trepeck and David and Jeffrey Gray. Off the Quad, a subscription-based service that e-mails college students information about local bars and events, won first place in the New Business category. They were represented by David Rich.