Winners and Finalists of the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition

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Alison Cariati, HAVERHILL Incorporated, Winner of the Entrepreneur Track

HAVERILL Incorporated is a fine jewelry company Alison co-founded with designer Haverhill Leach in 2013.  Haverhill and Alison worked together to come up with a jewelry line that is easily wearable and that holds real intrinsic value.  The designs they came up with combine quality and style to create accessories that are timeless, hence their slogan “Statement Jewelry for Every Day.”

Eddie Ross, TennisHub, Winner of the Technology Track

TennisHub is an online service that allows players to book tennis courts, find new partners, and, of course, play more tennis!  Eddie always knew there were tennis events to participate in, but he never knew where they were or when they were happening.   Players needed a way to find tennis events and book them online, so Eddie created TennisHub to get players on the courts more often.

Tyler Benster, Azavy, Winner of the Student Track

Azavy is an online store for 3D printed goods where designers can post their images for sale, 3D printing services can print images posted in Azavy’s catalog, and consumers can purchase images in the catalog or order printing from the listed printing services.   Through this online store, printing services can monetize their 3D printers, and consumers receive fair prices and quick delivery from local printers.

Jenny Yu, Optitrum, Finalist of the Student Track

Optitrum started as a capstone project and turned into a business with the goal of eliminating pain for diabetics.  Jenny and her team created a non-invasive glucose meter that measures glucose levels using saliva, removing the need for the painful needles used with traditional glucose meters.  Optitrum is in the middle of value-adding experiments, and will hopefully be headed for FDA approval later this year.

Mel Prenovitz, EndoSphere Surgical, Inc., Finalist of the Entrepreneur Track

Doctors have been looking for better instruments that decrease the number of incisions from as many as five to as few as one; however, when instruments share the same entry port into the body, surgeons have issues with depth perception.  EndoSphere Surgical, Inc. discovered the use of miniature electro optics restores depth perception without the need for a laparoscope or a video camera, and it works with existing instruments.

Melissa Ellard, Fashion-Force, Finalist of the Student Track

Fashion-Force is an online alternative to trade shows for the fashion industry.  Companies are given the chance to display their latest designs on a 24/7 platform so that they can avoid the additional expenses, time, and stress of traditional trade shows.  Fashion-Force’s overall goal is to help fashion businesses grow, connect, and conduct business through an easy, all-in-one service.

All winners and finalists—indeed, all applicants—in the 2013 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition are to be congratulated on formulating a plan for a new business.

It’s important to include all 78 applicants because, based on the competition’s history since it was established in 2000, it is not at all unusual for semi-finalists and others who didn’t progress to the final round to develop growth companies.

This year’s winners and finalists possess valuable traits that investors look for when evaluating potential investments. In particular, they:

  • Offered a compelling business proposition, which means they have identified a problem and proposed a solution which is better than any existing solution and which can make money.
  • Demonstrated why they are qualified to develop the business, because in the beginning and in the end, investors invest in people. All business plans are subject to change, and investors want to know that the people they’re investing in have the capacity to respond to changing conditions and, if necessary, re-orient their business.

Also important to note is that this year’s applicants offered plans that spanned a full range of industries – from health care, manufacturing, software, and consumer to Internet, distribution, and retail. They recognized that the opportunity to create new companies is limited only by the imagination.

Are business plans worth developing if, as noted, an actual business idea is likely to evolve, and in some cases, end up being something quite different from what was originally proposed? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”

It was Dwight Eisenhower who, after leading the victorious Allied armies in World War II, said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.” In other words, the act of planning helps you understand how the many elements of an operation interconnect and prepares you to respond to inevitable change.

Many times applicants tell us that while they didn’t win the competition, just completing the online evaluation helped them think through their idea. Often, people, even those who never completed the application, have said questions in the application (What is your market? Who are your competitors? What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?) forced them to more fully explore what they’re trying to accomplish and how.

To help people think about their business idea, the Rhode Island Business Plan Competition hosts a number of free seminars in which business leaders and experts provide guidance on how to determine whether an idea can be a business, how to go about the mechanics of developing a written plan, and how to present a plan to investors. These seminars are open to everyone, and will be offered again in advance of the deadline to apply to the 2014 competition, whether or not they intend to apply.

The actual writing of a plan is the final step of what can be a lengthy process of investigation, research, testing, and analysis. A business idea may have appeal, but a survey of your target market, for instance, may tell you that what you thought is the problem really isn’t.

Similarly, developing financial projects—a critically important part of any plan, with which most applicants need and should seek assistance—can surface many issues that are best addressed before reaching out to investors. For example, if your analysis says you will break even in a dozen years, it’s best to re-think the idea, as few investors will wait that long.

Entrepreneurship continues to be a dynamic, demanding, sometimes exhausting venture, but it’s always exciting and leads to new possibilities. We welcome applicants to the 2014 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition.

Peter Lowy
Manager, Rhode Island Business Plan Competition

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