BodyRox, a dance party fitness program, took home first place at Brown Entrepreneurship Program’s 15th Annual Startup Competition April 14. The BodyRox team won $12,000 and a number of in-kind services such as free meetings with lawyers, designers, venture capitalists and other professionals useful to startups. Second place went to the Fund for America team, which won $5,000 and in-kind services, and third went to the NBA Math Hoops team, which won $3,000 and in-kind services.
A panel of judges made up of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and other experts from the Entrepreneurship Program’s wide alumni network and advisory board chose the winners from a pool of 24 applicants. In the first round, contestants submitted a three to five page summary of their business along with a PowerPoint presentation. From there, 10 finalists prepared an in-depth eight-minute pitch followed by a five-minute question and answer session.
The prize money is all raised by students, said Elizabeth Weber ’14, co-president of the Entrepreneurship Program. Members of the group reached out to over 600 alums as well as their advisory board to ask for donations. Though the contest has been called the 50K Startup Competition, this year there were $20,000 in cash prizes and $50,000 worth of in-kind services at stake. Though the cash was given out in proportion to placement in the contest, the in-kind prizes were more equally distributed, according to Weber.
The winners are already using these prizes to help expand their businesses. Khalil Fuller ’14, chief executive officer of NBA Math Hoops, a nonprofit that develops math-based, sports board games, said he plans to use the money to help his business expand into 500 classrooms across the nation. Fund for America, the second place winner, is developing a crowd-funding model to enable anyone to fund startups, not just venture capitalists or qualified investors.
“The judging criteria simply put is about half size of opportunity and half likelihood to succeed, though a small portion is based on audience vote,” Weber said. Size of opportunity is the magnitude of the issue tackled by the venture and how well their solution fits the problem, according to the group’s website. The creation of the criteria, spearheaded by Joseph Hong ’15, included input from several alumni venture capitalists and entrepreneurs, members of the Entrepreneurship Program advisory board and written sources, such as books and articles about similar competitions.
A robust judging criterion was useful this year because this round of presenters was particularly impressive, Weber said. “Many of the judges and alumni said the group of presenters, regardless of who won, were the most impressive that they had seen in many years.”
“The competition was tough,” said Sadie Kurzban ’12 of the BodyRox team. “The other teams were really prepared, and there were some great ideas out there. We felt very fortunate to win.” Another aspect of the competition that was better than previous years was attendance. About 125 people came to the competition, making this year one of the best attended contests yet. Weber was particularly pleased with the number of students who came to see the pitches and support their friends.
Though this year’s competition was a great success for the Entrepreneurship Program, the organization is already looking ahead to see what they can improve for next year’s competition. Weber and others at the program are looking to increase the size of the prizes in order to better compete with other startup competitions around the country, as well as work more on the criteria to give a better chance to companies that are still in the initial stages of their development.
Weber sees the increase in attendance and the greater caliber of the contestants this year as signs of a growing entrepreneurial community at the University and hopes that the Entrepreneurship Program can become more institutionalized by acquiring more faculty, space and presence on campus.