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In the dog days of summer, a tiny company selling fruit bowls and smoothies made with exotic acai berries was one of the hottest businesses in Belmar.

Playa Bowls opened last summer as a sidewalk stand built around a giant cooler on the cement. Still, it drew crowds - large ones. This year, fans of the acai berry bowls returned as if they had been waiting all winter for another taste of the fruity snacks. It wasn't long before lines of customers started forming again, sometimes winding down Ocean Avenue toward Eighth.

But Rutgers Full-Time MBA alumnus Desi Saran and his partners Abby Taylor and Robert Giuliani, another Rutgers graduate, had already decided to up their game. After winning Rutgers Business School's annual business plan competition in April, they invested in a storefront that would bring their customers into the shade.

They opened their first 1,200-square-foot shop inside the former Belmar Fitness during the bustling Fourth of July weekend. The shop's grape purple awning, hand painted by Taylor, is visible from the beach. The interior is purple, too, with the work of local artists exhibited on the walls.

"Winning that $20,000 was huge in helping us to get the location here," Saran said.

The partners also added two new stands, one about 10 blocks away in Belmar and another in nearby Manasquan - and nearly tripled their employees to 14.

Playa Bowls illustrates just how the annual business plan competition helps to fuel entrepreneurism and support promising businesses created by Rutgers Business School students and alumni. Richard Romano, one of the judges, said of the three competition finalists Playa Bowls had the "greatest short-term chance of doubling or tripling business."

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Introducing Business Insights

Rutgers Business Insights is a new feature designed to highlight some of the latest research being done by professors at Rutgers Business School.

In one of the first videos, Professor Neha Shah explains research that looked at workers who offered interactive problem-solving assistance to their colleagues and whether they gained from providing the help.

"We looked at these situations mainly from the social network research, which has focused on what you get from people," Shah says in the video. "In thinking about this, we realized someone has to be doing the giving. What about those people?"

Watch the video

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