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The School of Business Starts Business Idea CompetitionThe School of Business Starts Business Idea Competition
Entrepreneur and Ithaca alum Chris Burch '76 is giving students the opportunity to develop their own businesses.

Entrepreneur Chris Burch ’76 got his start in business selling sweaters on campus 35 years ago.

Now, he is giving today’s students the opportunity to develop their own businesses, underwriting the Business Idea Competition that begins this fall. Prize money of up to $85,000 is available for the winner of a campus-wide competition that leads to the creation of a new business. The winning teams will have the chance to launch their businesses in the spring.

Burch – chairman of J. Christopher Capital and co-founder of the Tory Burch women’s fashion label – has spent more than 30 years as an entrepreneur and investor focused on luxury and technology brands.

He says he’s been involved in “brands that disrupt and change the world” with new ideas and concepts. It’s the same innovative thinking that he wants to stimulate among today’s Ithaca College students.

“I think it’s great to motivate students to create new things and to think in new ways that challenge the norm,” said Burch. “I like that there is an element of competition and to give them some rewards for their hard work. I also think that these programs will help prepare them for the real world.”

The Business Idea Competition idea developed from discussions with Burch about what’s important in business education, said Dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman. She sees this as the first step toward developing a Center for Business Creativity and Collaboration, to be housed at the School of Business.

“He really believes in hands-on opportunities for creativity, disruption, and innovation,” Zuckerman said.

Among Burch’s business ventures during his IC student days were selling hot dogs at football games, pinball machines at Cornell University, and sweaters on campus that he bought from importers for $9 and sold for $18.

The year he graduated, he and his brother started Eagle’s Eye apparel company in their basement. His initial investment of $2,000 grew into one of the largest branded sweater makers in the world with $140 million in sales before it was sold to Swire Pacific Ltd. in 1989.

Burch became one of the earliest investors in Internet Capital Group, a successful IPO in 1999, and in 2004 he and his former wife co-founded Tory Burch. He’s a founder of or investor in such companies as Aliph Jawbone wireless accessories, Color Kinetics, Voss of Norway bottled water, Codfarmers AS branded food producer, NextJump marketing services, and PowerMat wireless charging systems.

Last winter, Burch visited campus to address students on “Brand Building for the Luxury Customer of the Future.” He revealed details about several new ventures: Poppin office products; C.Wonder, a luxury retail store; and Monika Chiang, a consumer lifestyle and retail brand.

“The world is ugly,” he said. “It can be more beautiful. Everything can be improved.”

Before Poppin, recently launched on an invitation-only beta test, “office products were really ugly,” he said. Poppin will introduce “hip and cool” factors to the market and beat Office Max by half their prices, he said.

A Poppin video that he showed to the audience called Poppin “office supplies reinvented. We are eye-poppin products. We are jaw-droppin prices.”

More than once Burch emphasized the Asian market.

“Asia is more important to us now than the United States,” he said, adding later, “Chinese are buying more luxury items today than Americans are.”

Burch’s interest in China meshes with Ithaca College’s. His Chinese investments include MC2B (Hong Kong) Ltd., Freeborders, and a factory he is building near Shanghai. He has contributed funding to the China Association of Social Work and Child Welfare League of China.

Future business competitions may involve students from Chinese universities in teams with Ithaca students, said Zuckerman. This will fulfill part of the College’s goal of more international partnerships, with a specific focus on China. Increased global education is a pillar of the College’s new Strategic Vision, IC 20/20.

Burch says he’s excited about the entrepreneurial opportunities the School of Business is providing students:

“I love the school’s devotion to creative business ideas and teaching students new ways to look at business.”

“We believe this initiative will provide students in the School of Business and at Ithaca College with the opportunities to nurture and develop their creative concepts, and the environment where they can work on turning them into viable businesses,” said Zuckerman.


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