Students Get Jump Start with Business Idea CompetitionStudents Get Jump Start with Business Idea Competition
Three teams take home top prize in the 2013 Business Idea Competition

Personal experience led to the three winning ideas in this year’s annual Business Idea Competition.

When a plumber had to plunge his apartment’s kitchen sink, Zach Briggs ’15 realized the need for a device to clean the sink’s drain.

Spending half his life in Africa, Luca Pandolfi ’14 conceived a sustainable mass-production farm that can thrive in arid coastal areas.

James Newton ’14 and Antoine Connors ’14 treated people with plantar fasciitis in the Department of Physical Therapy’s clinic. They’ve also suffered the foot inflammation. So they developed a multifunctional, reusable ice massager that decreases pain and inflammation and remodels body tissue.

Each winning idea earned its inventor $1,000.

The Business Idea Competition stimulates student entrepreneurs to conceive new business ideas, pitch the ideas in a business format and present in the final round to a panel of three judges with business experience. All Ithaca College students can enter.

In the competition’s three years “the ideas have gotten better because students are spending more time talking to potential customers about their business ideas” said contest organizer Brad Treat, an Ithaca businessman.

“By speaking with real-world customers, they are better able to understand the customer need, and develop a strong business idea to fill that need.”

Briggs calls his drain cleaner Drain Flower, which he describes:

“Snap on the handheld stem to the center of the Drain Flower drain catcher and lift it to the garbage. With a push of a button, Drain Flower’s manual rotating petals scrape the catcher clean for an effortless no-mess experience.”

He’s refined the design for restaurants and also anticipates Drain Flower’s use in factories, warehouses and bathroom drains.

An integrated marketing communications major in the Park School of Communications, Briggs served as advertising and logistics lead for last year’s competition and decided to enter this year’s contest.

Passion drove his presentation, he said: “Having passion behind your endeavors is something that my dad taught me from a young age. He would insist, ‘Don't just do. Do it well. And do it because you want to.’" 

With his mother a director in the United Nations’ World Food Program, Pandolfi lived five years in Zimbabwe and four in Tanzania. He brought that perspective to his geography studies and developed an interest in applying cutting-edge technologies to the pressing problem of hunger across the African continent.

His business proposal, Eterna, would consume only seawater and sunlight to produce various organic crops, fruit, animal products, drinking water and biodiesel.

“This would be implemented mostly in Africa, where it could bring food to areas in need. An added advantage is that it would help to replace diesel with an alternative that is environmentally friendly and sustainably well-priced,” said Pandolfi, an international geography education through the Planned Studies Department of the Humanities and Sciences School.

His academic research led to his senior thesis, addressing what he calls a “self-sustaining mass-production farm.’’ The profits from biofuel production would go into producing the organic crops.

His likely next step, Pandolfi says, is to pursue a master’s degree to allow more time to develop plans for Eterna.

Connors came up with the idea for what he and Newton, both physical therapy majors, are calling SnoBall.

“Since it offers components of both ice and massage, rather than one or the other, it is superior to ice packs for certain conditions,” said Newton. “Beyond that, its multifunctional properties mean our customers can essentially customize his or her treatment.”

Determined to show the judges that SnoBall can become a success, Newton said, they conducted extensive research in design, materials, production, costs, pricing and marketing.

“Our presentation touched on every core area of the business to prove its potential viability in the marketplace,” he said.

The prize money will help pay for a completing a prototype design and filing a provisional patent. But even more exciting, Newton said, is the potential others see in SnoBall.

“We had four people, including a massage therapist, tell us after our presentation that they wish our product was already on the market because they want it,” he said.

The quality of all the ideas impresses School of Business Dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman.

“IC’s students’ entrepreneurial spirit reflects the distinctive kinds of students who choose Ithaca College. They are creative, innovative and forward-thinking,” she said. 

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