I recently attended the second annual Project Springboard business plan competition held at Bradley University. Project Springboard is the creative brainchild initiated by Alexis Khazzam of Junction Ventures and brought to life with Bradley’s support. It aims to give Bradley students the real-life experience of being entrepreneurs, working with Dr. Fred Fry to create business plans for their ideas. Dr. Fry, Khazzam and other judges then evaluate those ideas as any venture capitalist would do. The winner gets the opportunity to enjoy support from various local entities, including free space for 12 months in the new Peoria NEXT Innovation Center, in order to increase their idea’s chance for success.
Last year’s winner, the iPod Repair Squad (James Scaggs, Patrick Whitt, Lynn Wiewell, Jamie Buggs and Brad Watson), has been a huge success by any measure. Within the first 12 months, the company, now known as iRepair Squad, has expanded its purpose and base of customers, with revenues of approximately $1 million per month. Certainly, it will be difficult to repeat that initial success.
The winner of the second annual Project Springboard competition is Les Memoires. The three students on this team are Vanessa Carranza, Bradley Kusak and Adesegun Sun-Basorun. What is particularly impressive about this group is that they submitted a project last year, but did not win. In fact, the following teams who competed this year also competed in 2007:
- BizNetBook.com (Jeremy Brewer, Luke Lancaster, Katie Miller, Katie Sowa)
- D.R.E.A.M.S. (David Doolin, Nathan Lane, Justin Wille)
- OtherPeoplesPics.com (Stephen Bruning, Derek Karnatz, Matt Feigelson).
These students represent one of the key aspects of entrepreneurialism and one of the reasons Peoria NEXT was created. They embody the entrepreneurial spirit we are working hard to fully integrate into the culture of Peoria alongside the strong institutions that exist here. In their acceptance speech, the individuals from Les Memoires mentioned that what they learned from the process last year helped them to identify new opportunities to succeed this year. Simply going through the brutal analytical review by the judges taught them how to rethink and re-examine their idea to make it more commercially viable. Instead of feeling rejected, they were motivated to improve their product and came back for a second attempt in 2008.
As we have learned from others throughout the development of Peoria NEXT, entrepreneurs are unique in that they keep trying until they find something that works. They may fail nine straight times, but they believe that they will be successful the tenth time. We have learned that even if the ideas developed here leave the area, typically the individual behind the idea, i.e. “the brainpower,” stays and works to develop something new. Just imagine what the culture of economic development in the Greater Peoria Area is going to be in 10 years.
You may want to remember the names of these outstanding Bradley students—you will likely hear from them again in the future. Who knows, we may end up working with them—or for them—one day! IBI