Rutgers Business Plan Competition awards three teams of entrepreneurs cash to grow their ventures

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The public’s appetite for healthy foods helped a group of entrepreneurs, including a Rutgers MBA alumnus, capture top prize in Rutgers Business School’s business plan competition.

The winning team – Robert Giuliani, Desi Saran and Abby Taylor – won $20,000 to help grow Playa Bowls, which serves up acai berry-based fruit bowls and smoothies at two pop-up stands on the Jersey Shore. Last year, the company had two locations for most of the summer and sales of $100,000.

Richard Romano said among the three competition finalists, Playa Bowls had "the greatest short-term chance of doubling or tripling business.”

The annual competition, which is sponsored by the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation, is open to senior undergraduate students, recent graduates, current MBA students and recent MBA alumni. The competition is designed to encourage entrepreneurism and support job growth in the state.

The 2015 winners of the Rutgers Business Plan Competition included current students as well as alums of the Rutgers MBA program. Also shown are Ray Rossi and Judges  John Wilson, Richard Romano and Sharon Lydon, Executive director of the Rutgers MBA Program.

Saran, who graduated from Rutgers Business School and completed his Rutgers MBA in 2014, said the team will use the prize money to expand, possibly doubling the number of locations for the coming summer. “Our ambition is to grow the company and grow our revenues,” he said.

"Another thing we want to do is grow our brand,” Saran said. "We have a pretty loyal following, but there are juice bars and delis that are trying to copy our product. We have to figure out how to keep our customers coming back to us."

InteractWith, an app developed by Rutgers MBA alumna Amanda Fuchs and her business partner Angelo Stracquatanio, won the $15,000 second-place prize.

InteractWith offers school districts a platform to meet state-mandated communications policy requirements. Fuchs said the app combines the effectiveness of mobile communications with the benefit of transparency.  

Fuchs, who completed her MBA in 2012, said the prize money from the competition will allow InteractWith to increase its marketing, specifically at several upcoming national educational conferences where Fuchs and Stracquatanio can network with school administrators, athletic directors and teachers.

"We’re really going at this from all angles,” Fuchs said.

The third place prize of $10,000 went to, a burgeoning export retailer started by Rutgers graduate Zion Kim, Dimitry Apollonsky and Kevin Palomo, who are students at Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences, and Rutgers Business School students Asif Hilal and Melissa Diep. The company’s first products are hand-loomed towels made by artisans in the small village of Babadag in Turkey.

"I was convinced that this was something I could market,” Apollonsky said, explaining the genesis of the company. Apollonsky, who is a pre-business student, started planning the company last summer, researching luxury products from foreign places that he thought U.S. consumers would buy.

In August, the students raised $22,500 in seed money for the company on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and four members of the team traveled to Babadag in November to meet with the artisans who were producing the towels for

Romano told the students behind that their mission of selling attractive goods that would also help sustain the economy of the Turkish village was "commendable."

Ray Rossi, an instructor in the Department of Management and Global Business who has overseen the competition for the past decade, said there were 32 original submissions this year. The competition, he said, was intense, with a variety of good, viable ideas for new businesses.

"This was the toughest year to pick the finalists," he told the students before the winners were announced.

TAGS: Alumni Awards Business Plan Competition Entrepreneurship MBA Undergraduate