Semifinalists of Olin Cup Competition compete for $70,000

| Contributing Reporter

Judges on Thursday will select which 2009 Olin Cup Competition team finalists will go on to compete for a total of $70,000 in seed investments.

The Olin Cup Competition is co-sponsored by Olin Business School and several corporate sponsors from the community to help and encourage young entrepreneurs to create successful and viable business ventures.

This year, 45 teams entered the competition, an increase from last year’s 38 teams.

On Nov. 2, in the first round of the competition, 18 semifinalist teams were selected after submitting an executive summary, which mapped out specific details of their business plans.

“Both the quantity and quality of the entries this year has definitely increased,” said II Luscri, student services coordinator of the Skandalaris Center. “We spend a week with the executive summaries. It’s not an easy decision to make. We don’t have a strict number about how many teams we allow or don’t allow. Each judge stack ranks the teams 1 to 45.”

The business ideas submitted this year include Equity Benefits, a pre-employment screening device that solves discrimination problems; Eyelten Therapeutics, which develops therapies to treat age-related macular degeneration; InkBlot, a software solution that cuts student printing costs; LockerDome, a networking platform for amateur sports; and Visipo, a monitoring system that detects, confirms and cites offenders who talk, text and drive.

The second round is called a public “elevator pitch.”

“[The elevator pitch is a] 2-minute description about their idea; what would you say to somebody if you got caught in an elevator with them for two minutes?” Luscri said.

The event is open to the public, and audience members will be able to judge the event. The person that most closely matches the judges’ results of ranking the teams will win $250 in prize money.

The final round will take place on Jan. 21, 2010, and will consist of a 15-minute business plan presentation followed by a 15-minute question and answer session.

“We have about 25 experts [judging] from the community, some affiliated with the University, but mostly from Angel Investor network, Venture Capital network, Successful Entrepreneurs and the regional Commerce and Growth Association,” Luscri said.

Last year’s winner was VirtualNerd, an interactive online tutoring service that targets high school students struggling in math and science and that was developed by entrepreneur Josh Salcman and current University Ph.D. candidate Leo Shmuylovich.

“The biggest weakness with [teaching] videos is that people are unable to ask questions while watching the video,” Shmuylovich said. “We built a Web site that allows you to interact with the video [with] access to links and problems that have solutions to common questions and problems.”

The VirtualNerd Web site has been established with video tutorials, but the actual tutor videos won’t begin until early December, Shmuylovich added.

“The Olin Cup was a really fantastic opportunity for us,” Shmuylovich said. “Our executive summary was ranked somewhere along the bottom, and our elevator pitch was somewhere in the top-middle. I think that really speaks to the value of the competition. There’s so much feedback and opportunities for asking questions.”

Shmuylovich’s advice to current teams is to have a thorough financial plan that details how money that someone else has invested in the team will be used.

He believes the judges were most impressed with their considerations of potential pitfalls and how to get past them.

“The competition gave us a lot of confidence, and having confidence in the face of adversity is a very important thing in business,” Shmuylovich said. “The Olin Cup opens a lot of doors because people automatically know who you are; people from outside are offering to invest and help out.”

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