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What’s the big idea? Contests help students pitch their plans

What’s the big idea? Contests help students pitch their plans

The Whiteboard Competition gives students valuable hands-on experience to pitch their business ideas and inventions. “I like to call the program an entrepreneurship boot camp,” says clinical Professor Leonard Gingerella. (Photo: Christopher Jones)

By Chase DiFeliciantonio  |  Student reporter   

A knife-proof bike bag. A smart fuel filter for gas pumps. A beverage-dispensing couch. These are just some of the ideas that have percolated out of the Quinlan School of Business’s annual Whiteboard Competition since its inception in 2010.

Run by clinical Professor Leonard Gingerella of Quinlan’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program, the Whiteboard Competition gives students three minutes with a whiteboard and felt pen to pitch their ideas and inventions to local entrepreneurs. The winners receive cash to continue developing their ideas and possibly find investors.

The competition, Gingerella said, tests the value of ideas and encourages students of all majors to participate.

“Whiteboard is based upon the commercial and social impact value of the idea,” said Gingerella, who came to Quinlan in 2009. “What’s the idea? Is it unique? Does it fill a need? If the answer is yes, then students are encouraged to take the idea to the planning stage and explore its business potential.”

This year’s winning idea was a product called Saddlebag. Created by a team of undergraduates, it is a wire-mesh fabric bag that can attach to the back of a bicycle and withstand everything up to and including a knife slash. The idea was launched after a team member’s saddlebag was cut open and someone took off with tools, money, and a phone. Team Saddlebag received $500 for the idea and hopes to put it through the paces of business development.

Previous Whiteboard success stories include a smart phone app that communicates with a diabetic’s glucose monitor to provide real-time control. The idea received recognition from Microsoft’s business development division, and the software giant is considering offering it as a mobile app.

Still, despite these successful pitches, there are hurdles for students with bright ideas.

“The biggest thing that hurts undergrads is their age,” Gingerella said. “A lot of times because they’re so young, they aren’t taken seriously by equity players.

“So we try to drill home the notion that their ideas must be financially sustainable and have the ability to grow. It doesn’t matter if the idea is for a non-profit or a commercial venture, it has to pass the financial test of time and growth. That’s why I like to call the program an entrepreneurship boot camp.”

Whiteboard isn’t the only competition of its type at Quinlan. This April, the school’s entrepreneurship program will launch the Start-Up Challenge, a contest that asks students to present a business plan and pitch it to real investors. With a first prize of $2,000, Gingerella sees the Start-Up Challenge as an opportunity for all Loyola students to take their ideas to the next stage.

The Whiteboard Competition and the Start-Up Challenge are examples of Loyola’s thriving entrepreneurship program. Along with the student-run Loyola Limited, the University’s entrepreneurship program is increasingly asserting itself on the national stage—and it was recently ranked one of the top programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

Ultimately, Gingerella sees the entrepreneurship program as an opportunity to encourage students to develop ideas that have a positive social impact on the world.

“At Quinlan, we often talk about doing well and doing good at the same time,” Gingerella said. “And I hope that this program teaches students that they can do exactly that.”