Among the companies recognized by the HBS Business Plan Competition in recent years, one was acquired for $1 billion (Suppliermarket.com acquired by Ariba), another raised $100 million within months of graduation (Zefer), and another went public within three years (Chemdex, now named Ventro). All gained invaluable experience building a team and presenting their business plans to panels of experienced venture capitalists and entrepreneurs.
Announced on April 30th, this year’s winning team of the traditional track was Potentia Pharmaceuticals founded by Alec Machiels, NB and a team of technologists from MIT and Harvard. Potentia discovered a way to help drug companies better develop new products, 90 percent of which now fail in the clinical testing phase. “The Business plan contest forced us to crystallize our ideas, test our assumptions and work towards a fixed deadline,” said Machiels. “Winning it gave Potentia free PR and credibility towards the VC community and, more importantly, great internal momentum.”
The Business Plan Contest also had a social enterprise track which included non-profit or for profit business plans for enterprises with an explicitly social agenda. The winning team on the social enterprise track was Low Cost Eyeglasses which included Neil Houghton, Ashley Magargee, and Naomi Weinberg, all of ND. Low Cost Eyeglasses developed a solution to meet the needs of the one billion people in the developing world who need eyeglasses but can’t afford them.
Each winning team received $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in in-kind professional services. Contest runners-up represented new ventures in wireless technology and next-generation optical test and measurement technology. The social enterprise runner-up will provide goods and services to Mexico’s low-income housing market.
2001 was the fifth year of the HBS Business Plan Contest and was noteworthy to Mike Roberts, faculty advisor for the contest. “This year, there was much more mixing of HBS and non-HBS people on the teams, which is something we encourage,” said Roberts. “Obviously, the world has also changed in the last twelve months making the environment less supportive for starting a business. In that sense, the contest is a very real lens on businesses and the plans reflected the funding environment because they had real technology or something more than just a business model.” Roberts also noted that there was much more variety this year, with business plans focused on biotech, software, optical communications and wireless while last year’s contest was dominated by Internet business plans. This year was also the first year of the social enterprise track.
Forty-one teams, involving about 100 HBS students, submitted plans to the contest, eleven of them in Social Enterprise. The number of teams has remained about average over the five years of the contest, although last year’s contest had sixty teams, reflecting last year’s the attractive environment for starting a business. Each team was required to have at least one current HBS student, and the contest is only open to second year students. The contest began in late January, business plans were due on March 30th and all teams made presentations on “Super Saturday”, March 31. The finalists made final presentations on April 30 before the award ceremony.
The ceremony was attended by last year’s winning team members, Bob Rosin ’00 and Sarah Boatman ’00 of Bang Networks, a developer of an intelligent routing network for the Internet. Former runner-up Jon Burgstone ’99 and cofounder of Suppliermarket.com urged students not to be discouraged by “gyrations of the stockmarket.” “The quality of people wanting to join new ventures is still high,” said Burgstone. “And there is a high level of satisfaction to be had from creating something.”