These Students Are Already Entrepreneurs

Between classes, extracurricular activities, summer plans, and worrying about post-graduation debt, most college students have plenty to keep themselves occupied. How many also have the time and the ambition to start their own company while still in school? At George Mason University, it turns out the answer is “quite a few.” A number of these savvy student entrepreneurs gathered at the 2016 Deans' Business Plan Competition, held April 15 at 1776, a global incubator and seed fund for startup businesses located in Crystal City.

In Mason’s own version of “Shark Tank,” five finalists pitched their business ideas to a group of local investors and entrepreneurs, who judged each pitch on its business viability and potential impact in its market or sector. There was more at stake than pride, with a $10,000 cash prize awarded to the winner, thanks to a generous gift from Mason alumna Marilyn Jackson.

John Hill, a senior economics major who will graduate in May, took the prize for his startup company, EasyFBO, which provides a workflow management software system for managing fuel orders at small airports. Hill impressed the judges by identifying a clear business problem, developing an easy-to-use software solution, and marketing it effectively to a well-defined target audience. EasyFBO has already signed up its first two customers (airports in Leesburg, VA and Tulsa, OK), and Hill, who also won the Audience Choice award, plans to use the prize to visit other prospective customers this summer.

Second place, and a $3,000 prize, went to Niels Bulskov, a marketing major in the class of 2017. Bulskov’s business, Ground Control Coffee, partners with a local coffee roaster to provide “the freshest online coffee available.” Bulskov stood out in part for his strategy of using Instagram to connect with and market to his customers. The Social Impact Award, also with a $3,000 prize, was won by Selva Farms, a “vertical farm” founded by Nico Vivero and Madeena Haidari, both of whom will graduate in May.

The afternoon, which was organized by the School of Business’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, also included the inaugural Mobile Game Competition, sponsored by Mason’s Virginia Serious Game Institute. Five teams of aspiring game designers competed, with first place (and $10,000 worth of donated development time) going to “TreeCheckers”, a multi-player strategy game created by the team of Rishub Nagpal and Forrest Cinelli.

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April 20, 2016 / RR