IU's BEST Competition marks $1 million invested in student-led companies
Apr. 20, 2016
An annual competition for student entrepreneurs at the IU School of Informatics and Computing and Kelley School of Business has marked a milestone with $1 million invested in student-led projects over the past five years, including $200,000 to two student teams this year.
The winners of the 2015-16 Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology Competition are CareBand, which produces a safety bracelet for seniors with dementia, and The Bee Corp., which monitors the health of bees in the hive. Each company received $100,000 in investment from a group of business leaders who are IU alumni.
The BEST Competition, held this year on Feb. 17, is the largest award in the world offered by a university solely to its students in a business plan competition. Investors also received a stake in the company.
"It's exciting to see the winners range from one that is an idea to one that is already an ongoing business," said BEST Competition co-founder Scott Dorsey, managing partner at High Alpha as well as co-founder and former chair and CEO of ExactTarget. "I think the presentations and caliber of the businesses keep getting better and better over time, and it’s great to see the BEST Competition growing. We have students from all over the world and ideas that cross every industry that solve very different problems."
CareBand is a device that uses sensors to monitor the movement and daily activity of seniors suffering from dementia and provide peace of mind to caregivers and family members. Its creators aim to market the device to assisted living facilities. Funds from the BEST Competition will support another round of engineering for the product.
In addition to the financial investment, CareBand founder Adam Sobol credits the BEST Competition for the experience he has gained.
"This is exciting after all the hard work I put in," said Sobol, a master's student in information systems at the Kelley School of Business. "It is a big milestone in my company, and in my life. The money is great, but it's more about the experience of presenting in front of an experienced group of business people and entrepreneurs.
"Working with the investors and getting their feedback, expertise and thoughts on what I'm working on is really what I’m looking for," he added. "Saying that you're a BEST winner gives you credibility and the confidence to continue building your company."
The founders of The Bee Corp. are Ellie Symes, Simon Kuntz and Lucas Moehle of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Wyatt Wells of the IU Kelley School of Business. The students' business idea grew out of the Beekeeping Club they started on campus, and it addresses a market they say is both important and underrepresented.
"We presented to the IU Foundation about the Beekeeping Club, and some board members pulled me aside and said that there were some possibilities in the pollination market and that we should dream big and think beyond a club," Symes said. "I went back to my team and said I thought it was something we could do. All of us just started researching and looking into what was going on. We started figuring out little niches where we could fit in."
What they found was very little in terms of solid technical solutions related to preventing the death of bees, despite the fact that U.S. beekeepers lost more than 40 percent of their colonies in 2014-15. Total colony loss in Indiana reached 49 percent over the same time period.
The students attacked the problem, and their result was The Bee Corp. They plan to use their investment from the BEST Competition to acquire hives and start developing a much-needed product: equipment that monitors internal conditions in hives to keep bees healthy.
Healthy bees are important because they pollinate flowering plants that either directly or indirectly produce one-third of our food. Without healthy bees, there could be a major disruption in food production.
Winning the BEST Competition will jumpstart The Bee Corp., said Symes, who encourages future contestants to use all the resources that the competition provides.
"BEST is for people like Adam, and like ourselves, who were already thinking about doing something, and IU has this great opportunity," Symes said. "We ended up winning, but you're going to gain so much advice and learning from going through the process. You don't want to join BEST just to win the competition. There's so much more to be taken away from it."