Value Added: The Entrepreneur's Final Four


Tom Heath's "Value Added" column has moved here on Sundays but he sent us this account of a recent business competition at the George Washington University School of Business.

I spent my morning this past Saturday watching the Final Four.

Not that Final Four. But the Final Four of the first annual Business Plan Competition at the George Washington University School of Business.

Out of 210 initial contestants, these were the four that had a chance of turning their business plans into, well, real businesses. The prize: $20,000 in seed money to get the business off the ground, compliments of Richard Scott.

Scott founded Columbia Healthcare Corp., now known as HCA.

Each group made a 20-minute presentation to a panel of judges. In addition to Scott, the judges included Steven Roberts, president of The Roberts Companies in St. Louis, who is a parent of a GW student; venture capitalist Mark Levine, a 1978 graduate of GW's business school; Nelson Carbonell of Snowbird Capital, and Mark Ashida, a venture capitalist who also is the parent of a GW student.

The winner was Keen Guides, a business that creates customized video tours for museums, parks, historic sites, downtowns and other cultural places of interest.

Tour users can download video tours to their personal media players, or pick up a preloaded player at the venue. Keen Guides' revenue will come from selling subscriptions to cultural institutions. The videos allow for sign language and closed captions for people with disabilities, and Keen also plans to make the videos available in various languages.

"We thought [Keen Guides] had a very focused market and had put together a good team to go after that market," Ashida said. "We could see Keen expand to museums and colleges in every part of the country."

Frank McNally is Keen's chief sales officer and an evening student at the GW Business school. His day job is with the federal government, but he and his team hope to get Keen off and running by the end of the summer.

"We recognized that we could use the investment to develop a mobile application that would make it easy for people to download tours so they can enjoy their favorite museum and cultural establishment," McNally said.

Second place went to Health Day By Day, and included a $6,000 prize. Day By Day created a Web service and special pill container to help the elderly remember to take their medication. The business is the brainchild of Traudi Rose, a registered nurse and MBA student at GW.

Third place went to Kalpa Energy, whose plan is to make biodiesel from algae. Kalpa Energy hopes to capitalize on the growing demand for clean energy.

Fourth place was Saturday Delivery, which is a one-man show created by Konrad Kopczynski, a GW undergrad student.

Kopczynski's idea came from his weekend trips to Costco and other big-box stores, where he would purchase items for his friends at GW.

Kopczynski, 19, takes online credit card orders for bulk purchases for such items as bottled water, Gatorade and Pop Tarts. He rents a van on Saturdays and drives to Costco and other big box stores, buying the items and then delivering them to the front of GW dormitories, charging a markup to his clients.

"We could see why Saturday Delivery had a good plan, but we weren't sure how big that plan could get," Ashida said. "Saturday Delivery at the end of the day relied on quality people delivering quality services. That's a very difficult thing to do, especially once it gets outside of the people you can visit in one day. Many retailers face the same problem: when you have a high-service operation, how do you create the same culture and sense of ownership in another geography?"

By Dan Beyers  |  April 20, 2009; 7:23 PM ET  | Category:  Value Added
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Comments

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What an amazingly diverse collection of business ideas. It would be interesting to follow these entrepreneurs to see how they perform over time, especially in this economy.

Posted by: djeendjeen1 | April 21, 2009 10:01 AM

This looks like a really interesting competition. I wish the Post had more space to give details about the projects and the experts' analyses. Are any of the students reading this?

Posted by: furnituregirl | April 21, 2009 12:49 PM

I believe the true "value added" is not limited to the Final Four teams that won the $30,000. It's in the rest of the 210 GW teams who submitted ideas for new businesses they would like to create. There is incredible power in this large number of entrepreneurial GW students. It is this awesome power that explains why entrepreneurs are properly credited with leading our country out of the last seven recessions, and hopefully will do the same again this time!

Posted by: jrollins2 | April 21, 2009 10:09 PM

I had the opportunity to participate as a final judge of the competition. We had four great teams, which all presented very well. We hope each of the teams follows through on their business plans.

Posted by: rscott2 | April 24, 2009 10:40 AM

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