Annual New Venture Competition offers showcase for start-ups
Not all new ventures make it – in fact, although the numbers change depending on a variety of factors, most start-ups will fail. Armed with this knowledge, Miguel Dominguez ’10 entered Bryant’s inaugural New Venture Competition in 2011 hoping to get seed money and advice from seasoned entrepreneurs.
When he didn’t take the top spot, Dominguez returned to the drawing board, tweaked and re-tooled his idea, and in 2014, his start-up, Clique, placed first in the New Venture Competition. He notes, “Rarely do you succeed with the first concept/idea. This is my third try. I took aspects from my initial cart business to a brick and mortar concept, and ultimately pivoted to target the vending market.”
Now in its 5th year, the New Venture Competition is an opportunity for students and alumni to showcase their start-ups. It will be held on Oct. 16, kicking off Reunion @ Homecoming weekend. For the first time, presentations will be made in front of an audience of potential investors.
“Rarely do you succeed with the first concept/idea. This is my third try."
2012’s winner, Kris Hart ’08, stays in close contact with judges Jay Weinberg ’85 and Brian Cowley ’82. “Both judges have become good friends and mentors I rely on for advice with tough decisions.” In fact, all previous participants have said that the feedback and connections are just as important – if not more so – than the prize money.
Hart’s winning idea, CollegeGolfPass, now Nextgengolf, is growing. Hart was recently named one of Ten Most Innovative People in Golf Marketing by Golf Inc magazine.
Daryl Crockett ’82 won the 2013 competition with Validus, a data migration and validation software company. One of her takeaways from the competition is the importance of being able to explain to potential investors and customers the problem being solved by the start-up organization. Student track winner Melissa Ellard ’13 took top prize for Fashion Force. She followed up by being among the winners in the R.I. Business Plan competition. “Presenting my ideas to the judges at Bryant clearly helped me prepare for the bigger stage, competing against the best plans in the state.”
Since winning the 2014 contest, Dominguez has made steady progress. In addition to staying in touch with competition judges Cowley, Weinberg, and Scott DePasquale ’94, he has found much needed assistance from Bryant Ventures coach Sandra Potter, Ph.D.
After meeting with the Clique team, Dominguez decided to allocate his $20,000 first prize to hiring an industrial designer and building a functional prototype of Clique. As with many ventures, the Clique team raised additional funds from friends and family and are now targeting accredited investors. Dominguez notes the importance of funding in any business startup experience and advises future participants to, “be clear in your vision and communicate that vision and milestones to investors.”
Lack of market, running out of cash, and not having the right management team in place are three of the most common reasons a start-up may not ultimately survive. Succeed or fail, Bryant’s past New Venture Competition contestants have learned important lessons:
- Stephen Fitch ’09 and his company Moondust Macarons won the top prize in 2011. Although he has closed the business, he shares this advice, “Make sure you really care about what you’re doing. You need to live and breathe it to achieve the depth of understanding and drive you’ll need to even have a chance of succeeding.”
- Last year’s runner-up, Marissa Banigan ’07, designed and produced a prototype of Raina to the Rescue, a line of toys and books to teach leadership skills to young girls. Although an initial Indiegogo campaign did not reach its target, Banigan is holding fast to her dream, and is using social and mainstream media, including an article in Forbes, to communicate her company’s inspirational message.
- Steven Brodeur ’16 won the student track last year with Winsulate, an energy-efficient window solution. The difficulty of balancing his academics and his commitment to Winsulate, Brodeur said, became an obstacle to success. Of his team, he said, “Each of us has different strengths and weaknesses and we couldn’t decide how each of us would contribute.” He recommends identifying everyone’s roles before pitching to investors.