The top winners of the Rutgers Business Plan Competition with Professor Doug Brownstone and the judges.

MBA student gets short time to savor big win at business plan competition

After making history at the Rutgers Business Plan Competition by winning the top prize a second time, Anton Kogan faced his biggest test yet as a business owner.

Only days after MBA student Anton Kogan won the Rutgers Business Plan Competition, his Amazon-like retail distribution company started to experience a dramatic surge in orders as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Emma's Premium Services, which Kogan started five years ago in his garage, provides New York State prison inmates and their families with the ability to order and ship food items and clothing that meet federal prison requirements.

With visitors suddenly prohibited from seeing inmates and some relatives reluctant or unable to shop, Kogan said a typical month’s worth of business occurred in each week of April.

“It’s been overwhelming,” said Kogan, a Part-Time MBA student focusing his studies on supply chain management.

Kogan’s original business plan for Emma’s won first place in Rutgers Business School’s 2017 business plan competition. With that prize money, he moved the company from his basement into a larger warehouse space in New Brunswick.

In March, he won the $20,000 first prize and became the only participant to win the competition’s top prize twice.

He plans to use the prize money to move into the California market where he predicts he could generate $1.4 million in sales within two years. The California market, which has an estimated inmate population of 240,000, could be worth about $17 million in new business, Kogan told the judges. 

Emma's is currently generating about $3 million in annual sales, Kogan said. 

The forced shut down of businesses in New York and New Jersey caused challenges in the days that followed the business plan competition. “It was really difficult to fulfill people’s orders when every supply chain was breaking down,” he said.

When orders started flooding in, Kogan quickly hired five new employees and often found himself searching for the goods his customers wanted. The pressure of fulfilling orders was matched by the concern for everyone’s safety, he said.

“Regardless of the chaos, I had to find a solution as efficiently as possible,” he said.

The challenge posed by Covid-19 could have a silver lining, according to Kogan. “I think this will help business," he said. "The exposure the platform is getting is bringing a lot of new customers. I think the majority of them will stick with us." 

Kogan plans to use the new prize money to move into the California market where he predicts he could generate $1.4 million in sales within two years. The California market, which has an estimated inmate population of 240,000, could be worth about $17 million in new business, Kogan told the judges during the competition. 

He has until July to file the application to do business with the California Department of Corrections. Emma's is currently generating about $3 million in annual sales, Kogan said. 

Rutgers Part-Time MBA student Anton Kogan.
Part-Time MBA student Anton Kogan reacting to winning the top prize (for a second time) in the annual Rutgers Business Plan Competition.

The winner of the $15,000 second prize was Hubert Kwame Anane Sarfo who operates Kaneshie, a small food store  that caters to the West African community in Central New Jersey. Last year, Sarfo’s Sayreville-based grocery reported more than $600,000 in sales.

The owners of Carribrew Coffee – Beverly Malbranche, her brother Esdras Malbranche and friend Chad Smile – who import coffee from Haiti and sell it through subscriptions to coffee drinkers in the U.S. won the third-place prize of $10,000.

The competition included two other student entrepreneurs, Full-Time MBA student Akshay Arora and Darrell Michael Bailey, a Rutgers Business School undergraduate who is studying real estate.

Arora pitched judges a retail sales data tracking company he is piloting with partners in India, and Baily presented details of a real estate technology investment company called Perfect Solutions in Fin-Tech Real Estate.

Doug Brownstone, a Rutgers Business School professor of professional practice who oversees the competition, said the five top entries this year were unique in that they were not just ideas but operating businesses. The five were chosen from 35 submissions.

Participants in the annual Rutgers Business Plan Competition.
Of 35 submissions, the owners of five nascent businesses were chosen to participate in the annual Rutgers Business Plan Competition.

The annual competition was started 20 years ago by the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation to support student entrepreneurship a strength of Rutgers Business School's at both the undergraduate and graduate level and to help foster job creation in New Jersey.

The top five submissions were judged during a half day competition on March 6 by Richard Romano, president of the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey and a member of the Rutgers Business School dean's board of advisers; John Wilson, a Rutgers MBA alumnus who also represents the Sales Executive Club of Northern New Jersey Foundation; and Mayuresh Pandit, a Rutgers MBA alumnus and Verizon Wireless product manager.

Sarfo, a Rutgers University-Newark graduate, described his business as the Shop-Rite to New Jersey residents of West African heritage. He plans to use his prize money to open a second grocery store in Freehold or Manalapan.

The owners of Carribrew Coffee also tapped into a niche market, offering coffee lovers a quality product with a social good component of supporting farmers in Haiti. During its presentation, the team explained that they are no currently being paid and have generated nearly $60,000 in sales so far this year with no paid marketing.

Esdras Malbranche, a graduate of Rutgers University, said the team would use the prize money to move into a larger facility. The start-up company is currently operating out of a small warehouse in Newark.  

Rutgers MBA students and alumni who have previously won prizes in the Rutgers Business Plan Competition for their ventures, include one of the founders of Playa Bowls and the owners of Bergen Botanicals, the Zwiren Title Agency and Perfect Life Nutrition.

-Susan Todd

 

 

 

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