What’s the Big Idea?

Business idea competition sparks creative inspiration

When Shanshan Mei ’14 looked for a computer screen cleaner, she saw a void in the market. There were screen-cleaning wipes (too big and poorly designed), solution-based cleaning kits (you can’t take it with you), and disposable wipes (bad for the environment). She wanted to develop a portable screen cleaner that not only worked well on computer screens and mobile devices but looked good, too.

“After all, if you don’t even like the look, how willing will you be to carry it around with you?” she asks.

Enter the Mei, a portable screen cleaner that took first place in the product division at Ithaca College’s first business idea competition. The competition was the culmination of a series of workshops that helped students cultivate their ideas and prepare to pitch them to a panel of judges. Chris Burch ’76, chairman of J. Christopher Capital and cofounder of the Tory Burch fashion line, gave $5,000 in prize money to each of the winning teams in three categories. If the teams decided they wanted to pursue their idea, they would receive an additional $5,000 to help fund the project.

“Winning this competition makes me want to dive into this idea and really make it work,” Mei said.

Mei is now taking the next step with her product. She’s teamed up with another student to develop a business plan and build a brand.

Tom Schryver, lecturer in management and a judge at the competition, believes students took away more than just business skills from the competition. “After they graduate and find themselves moving into their careers, they’re going to have to present their ideas more. I’m hopeful that they got a really good experience that they can draw on from a communications perspective as well,” Schryver said.

Two graduate students in physical therapy won the web service category with their idea, RevoPT, which enables physical therapists to send exercise videos to clients.

A team made up of business and computer science majors won the software category with traceIT, which scans grocery store barcodes to see if a product was made with natural ingredients.

“This cross-fertilization of ideas and people is exactly what we are hoping to achieve with IC 20/20, the College’s strategic vision,” said School of Business dean Mary Ellen Zuckerman. “Such interdisciplinary activities promote creativity and innovation, which are at the heart of entrepreneurship.”