Watermelon Express Wins Top Prize at the 14th Annual Business Plan Competition
The University of Chicago Booth School of Business and its Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship announced the winners of their 14th annual Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, New Venture Challenge (NVC) on Thursday, May 27. The first-place prize of $30,000 went to Watermelon Express (WMX), a technology platform that delivers educational applications to multiple platforms—mobile (iPhone, Android), iPad, desktop, and web.
The NVC is the school’s premier business plan competition, spanning the full academic year and helping students launch and run new businesses. The day-long finals competition concluded with the announcement of the winning teams, who receive prizes in the form of cash, legal services, professional consulting, and incubator space in the ARCH Venture Partners New Business Incubator, housed within the Polsky Center. The competition began with 111 teams – one of the highest numbers in the history of the competition.
The first-place team, Watermelon Express, is led by first-year student AshishRangnekar. The WMX platform keeps user data synchronized across the various touch points to which it delivers its educational applications. The WMX platform is highly scalable and can adopt content from any subject area, language, and country. Over the past 12 months, 40,000 students across 64 countries have used the WMX iPhone, desktop and/or web application.
Future Simple, the second-place team and winner of $15,000, provides simple and intuitive online business software for small businesses. Their first product, PipeJump, is a sales tracking application for small businesses, which creates a unique interface through reduction of form elements and drag-and-drops.
Two teams tied for third place, each winning $10,000. Andreas Baking Company is a new wholesale bakery based in Tanzania, which will provide local consumers a variety of high quality, safe, and nutritious baked goods. Bolder Thinking has built a proprietary enterprise-quality business telephony solution that utilizes advanced cloud computing technology to replace expensive on-premise hardware-based telephony solutions.
“We congratulate all the teams this year in what was one of the most closely contested New Venture Challenge competitions ever,” said Ellen Rudnick, Executive Director of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. “Watermelon Express, Future Simple, Andreas Baking Company, and Bolder Thinking topped a list of nine outstanding businesses. It is especially gratifying when our esteemed investor judges tell us the New Venture Challenge is the best business plan competition they participate in, and it is a credit to our outstanding, dedicated students who make it so great.”
Other finalist teams, each receiving $2,000, included BelliSwap, a web-based business offering brand-name maternity wear for rent; Cambia Tu, an online self-development portal in Spanish for Latin Americans; Quantitative Insights, Inc., a biotechnology company that has produced QuantX, a platform technology for characterization and diagnosis of cancer from medical images; Rogue Technologies, which has developed a cutting-edge eye tracking system that will enable next-generation user interfaces in mass market applications; and TurboBOTZ, a service that allows video gamers to buy, sell, and trade video games within a single online site.
The NVC has awarded $675,000 to date and has helped launch more than 60 companies, which have gone on to raise more than $100 million in equity capital. These have included Bump, GrubHub.com, Bobtail Ice Cream, Brightroom, MedSpeed, and PrepMe.
The NVC process includes two phases and a finals competition. During the autumn, students from Chicago Booth pitch business ideas, collaborate, and form teams. In early February, student teams submit feasibility summaries about their proposed ventures, and a number of teams are then selected to advance to the second phase, where they develop their ideas into full business plans with instructor guidance and critique from venture capitalists, private investors, and established entrepreneurs. Finalist teams are selected to present at the finals competition before a world-class panel of investors and entrepreneurs, who determine the winners.
The NVC expanded globally in 2008 to allow Executive MBA students and alumni from around the world to participate. The unique Global NVC track is designed to fit the needs of students in disparate locations by engaging alumni and industry experts throughout the world to assist in marketing, coaching, and individual mentoring. Judging sessions for Global NVC semi-finalists take place in London and Singapore, with finalists presenting before a panel of judges in Chicago in March.
The success of the NVC is made possible through the generous support of corporate and individual sponsors. The title sponsor is Edward L. Kaplan, ’71, founder and former chairman and CEO of Zebra Technologies. Other sponsors this year include Abbott Laboratories, Immanuel Thangaraj, ’93, Robert McCormack, Ron Tarrson, Steven Kaplan, Steven Beitler, Market Strategy Group, LLC, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, Reed Smith LLP, and Deloitte.
About the Polsky Center:
The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship is Chicago Booth’s leading resource for students and alumni as they pursue entrepreneurial endeavors and private equity careers. The center supports entrepreneurial development through its cutting-edge curriculum, innovative hands-on learning experiences, leading faculty research, conferences, and community and global outreach programs. Entrepreneurship is the second largest concentration at Chicago Booth, and, with an impressive growing network of students and alumni as entrepreneurs, the Polsky Center is dedicated to expanding and capitalizing on this vibrant and active sector of our economy. For more information visit: www.ChicagoBooth.edu/entrepreneurship/