By Cliff Ennico
I was pleased to be one of the judges at last week’s Connecticut Business Plan Competition sponsored by The Entrepreneurship Foundation (www.entrepreneurshipfoundation.org) and held at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut.
Twice a year dozens of teams from the entrepreneurship classes at Connecticut’s private colleges, state universities and community colleges compete for cash awards, trophies and the chance to meet some of the state’s most prominent venture capitalists and angel investors, in Connecticut’s own version of the “Shark Tank” television show (although the judges are much nicer).
Here are some of the concepts that were presented at the event, and my notes on each plan (written in “real time” so not grammatically perfect).
CONCEPT #1: A food truck featuring different types of “pierogies” — dumplings filled with potato, cheese, mushrooms, cabbage, ground meat or fruit that originated in Poland.
THE PROS: Business is easy to launch and will have little competition; having one product with lots of different fillings makes pierogies easy to produce in large quantities with limited kitchen space.
THE CONS: May have difficulty getting market to recognize pierogies as “fast food”. There is also a perception of pierogies as high fat products that are not healthy.
SUGGESTIONS: Company should target communities with large Polish or eastern European populations to test market acceptance.
CONCEPT #2: A mobile phone application (“app”) by which bar patrons can order drinks from bartenders and pay for them without having to wait in line or deal with crowds.
THE PROS: Likely to be very popular with the college set; feeds into customers’ desire for immediate gratification and may speed up drink delivery time.
THE CONS: Bartenders will not prepare a drink until they know the order is prepaid. App raises the possibility of theft (someone other than person ordering via the app picks up the drink at the bar). Chaotic scene at most bars may require bar owners to add staff to monitor and fill orders placed via the app.
SUGGESTIONS: Company should test product at fraternity/sorority parties to see how product works in practice and identify operational issues.
CONCEPT #3: A computer software application that uses “probabilistic modeling” to help doctors predict the likelihood of a patient not showing up for appointments based on the patient’s health and demographic data.
THE PROS: Product fulfills a real need; doctors lose tons of revenue due to “no shows” and may not be able ethically to charge patients who don’t show up for appointments. Extensive research required to develop product will deter competitors.
THE CONS: Relying on actual patient data may violate federal privacy laws such as HIPAA. Relying on “statistical” data may lead to charges of discrimination and “profiling.”
SUGGESTIONS: Company needs to hire a law firm well versed in health care law and federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process.
CONCEPT #4: A robot that will mow your lawn and collect grass clippings without human intervention.
THE PROS: Huge potential market; product is easily patentable.
THE CONS: Making a clipping bag large enough to collect all clippings without impairing the robot’s movement may be difficult. The smaller the bag, the more frequently human intervention will be required to empty it.
SUGGESTIONS: Sell product to landscapers and lawn services rather than homeowners.
CONCEPT #5: A landscaping design service focusing on edible and medicinal plants as a tool for self sufficiency.
THE PROS: Service taps into the fast growing “locavore” food movement.
THE CONS: Plantings will require near-constant maintenance beyond the ability of many homeowners, making this a very labor-intensive (and therefore expensive) service.
SUGGESTIONS: Company should develop proprietary designs and sell them as an information package for advanced gardeners who have the time and energy to implement the designs.
CONCEPT #6: A mobile phone application that uses motion-sensor and voice-recognition technologies to translate American Sign Language (ASL) signs into text messages enabling hearing-impaired people to communicate with people who cannot understand ASL.
THE PROS: Product fulfills a real need and is easily patentable.
THE CONS: Many ASL signs require the use of both hands, making it difficult for the user to communicate to the device without someone else holding it.
SUGGESTIONS: Consider an app that goes the other way: translating text messages into recorded videos of ASL signs.
CONCEPT #7: A rubber golf club that golfers can use to take out their frustrations after making bad shots on the course.
THE PROS: Inexpensive to produce (in China) and market to sporting goods chains and “pro shops” using targeted ads in Golf Digest® and other publications.
THE CONS: “Happy Gilmore” meltdowns on the golf course tend to be “in the moment” emotional outbursts. It may be too much to expect golfers to have the presence of mind to reach for the rubber club if they are truly upset by a bad shot.
SUGGESTIONS: The club should be marketed as a “gag” gift item, perhaps with infomercials on the Golf cable television channel.