Rutgers Business Plan Competition Winners: Where are they now?
Rutgers Business Plan Competition Winning teams from 2008 and 2009 share what they have learned and accomplished since winning.
The variety of successful student-run startups already created by Rutgers students and alumni provide an impressive showcase of the innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and creativity found within Rutgers Business School. Past successes have ranged from new new literary business models (BookSwim) to nonprofit microlending firms (The Intersect Fund). This year will mark the 10th annual Rutgers Business Plan Competition, supported by the Sales Executives Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation.
The objective of the Business Plan Competition is to encourage the development of students’ businesses plans that have the potential to be funded and launched. More than just a competition, “it is a reflection of Rutgers Business School’s strong corporate partnerships and its emphasis on preparing its students and graduates to succeed in applying business concepts to real-world challenges,” said Michael R. Cooper, PhD., Dean of Rutgers Business School.
2008 Winner: BookSwim
Shamoon Siddiqui (RBS 2008) and George Burke (NJIT 2008) may not have walked away from the final rounds of the 2007 Rutgers Business Plan competition with a cash prize, but they did walk away with some good advice and determination to attack the challenges ahead for their new business idea. The duo created BookSwim (bookswim.com), an online book rental service based on the simple philosophy of helping people read more while spending less. Subscribers pay a monthly fee, similar to Netflix, and receive a pool of books limited only by how fast they can read them.
George Burke and Shamoon Sidiqui of BookSwim.com in the startup days in 2007.
“When we entered in 2007, the judges felt the concept was not feasible…but they said that Shamoon and I work well as a team and we’d likely success, jut not renting books,” said Burke. The judges also felt that the team had no solid plan for expanding or scalability for growth. So, immediately after losing in 2007, Siddiqui and Burke began working on solutions for that exact problem. “We took that scalability issue very seriously and made pitch with plans to outsource book fulfillment operations to a logistics company,” said Burke.
One year and 4,000 new BookSwim subscribers later, Burke and Siddiqui felt confident and decided to re-enter the competition. “[By then] we had the true experience and proof of concept by already posting significant revenue.” They recreated a business plan and pitch. The judges noticed the improvements and BookSwim won the 2008 competition, earning $20,000.
Since winning, the company has grown from a basement startup to a full-fledged, stable company with an office in Newark. BookSwim has recently outgrown their first warehouse and by February 2010 has shipped out almost 250,000 books.
“Looking back on it, I'm glad we won the competition our 2nd try, said Burke. “Had we won in the beginning, we would have launched with a poorly planned business strategy. The loss, while it hurt a bit, really pushed us to revamp long-term strategy and think about how to grow quickly, but smartly.”
2009 Winner: The Intersect Fund
The competition’s most recent winner, The Intersect Fund (intersectfund.org), grew out of a desire to bring the campus to the community. When Rohan Mathew (RU SAS 2009) and Joe Shure (RC 2009) were editors at The Daily Targum — Rutgers University’s student-run newspaper — they saw two sides of New Brunswick, New Jersey: a side of growth and wealth and a side of low-income residents struggling economically. The pair joined RBS student Sofya Leyzerova (RBS 2008) and took the idea to the Rutgers Business Plan Competition.
“Entering the competition is a great experience for students who want to get serious about starting a business,” said Matthew. “Beyond the prize money, it forces you to write a business plan, which is essential for any new venture.”
The nonprofit – founded by students and completely student-run – empowers local entrepreneurs to lift themselves from poverty while giving about 20 student interns the opportunity to apply lessons from school and life in a substantive way. Rutgers student-founders are using a homegrown version of a Nobel-prize-winning microfinancing concept to provide business loans and training to low-income and other disadvantaged entrepreneurs in New Brunswick. The team impressed the judges and took home $25,000 dollars which they planned to use to keep a staff and expand the organizations services.
Since winning $25,000 in last year’s competition, The Intersect Fund has raised an additional $130,000 in capital and has helped more than 100 clients start or grow businesses and work out of offices in New Brunswick and Trenton. “Last week, I helped a longtime client with her taxes and she found out that her revenues nearly tripled in 2009,” said Matthew. “She credits our coaching with improving her product mix and pricing strategies to make that a reality.”
For information about Rutgers Business School and its undergraduate and graduate degree programs, visit business.rutgers.edu.