Personal Experience Leads to Practical Products in Ithaca College Business Idea Competition

Personal experience led to the three winning concepts in this year’s Business Idea Competition, an annual contest sponsored by the Ithaca College School of Business that helps student entrepreneurs grow their business ideas.

  • When he had to hire a plumber to unplug his apartment’s kitchen sink, Zach Briggs ’15 realized the need for a device to help make keeping the drain clean quick, easy and cheap — and the Drain Flower was born.
  • Spending half his life in rain-deprived Africa, Luca Pandolfi ’14 conceived a sustainable mass-production farm, which he has dubbed Eterna that can thrive in arid parts of the world.
  • Physical therapy students James Newton ’14 and Antoine Connors ’14 treated people with plantar fasciitis in the campus physical therapy clinic and have suffered from the painful foot condition themselves. They created SnoBall, a compact, reusable ice massager that decreases pain and inflammation.

Each winning idea earned its inventor $1,000.

The Business Idea Competition was created to stimulate student entrepreneurship. It provides an opportunity for students to learn about brainstorming and idea qualification, practice pitching ideas on a tight schedule and connect with distinguished alumni and community members in the business world.

“We had 12 great business ideas for our finals and the judges had a difficult time selecting the winners in each of the three tracks,” said Mary Ellen Zuckerman, dean of the School of Business. “All of the students had great passion for their ideas and we wish them well as they continue on. This competition really shows off our students’ entrepreneurial skills and demonstrates that they are creative, innovative and forward-thinking.”

Briggs won in the Lifestyle track for Drain Flower, which he says can be used in the home as well as in restaurants. “Snap on the handheld stem to the center of the Drain Flower drain catcher and lift it to the garbage,” he says. “With a push of a button, Drain Flower’s manual rotating petals scrape the catcher clean for an effortless no-mess experience.”

With his mother a director in the United Nations’ World Food Program, Pandolfi lived for nearly a decade in Zimbabwe and Tanzania. He brought that perspective to the Services track of the competition, developing Eterna as a way to address the pressing problem of hunger across the African continent. His concept for sustainable farming would use seawater and sunlight to produce various organic crops, animal products, drinking water and biodiesel.

“This would be implemented mostly in Africa, where it could bring food to areas in need,” said Pandolfi. “An added advantage is that it would help to replace diesel fuel with an alternative that is environmentally friendly and sustainably well-priced.”

In the Health and Safety track, Connors and Newton conducted extensive research in design, materials, production, costs, pricing and marketing to come up with SnoBall. The prize money will help pay for a completing a prototype design and filing a provisional patent.

“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 their treatment. 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.”

The Business Idea Competition is supported by alumnus Chris Burch ’76, chairman of J. Christopher Capital and co-founder of the Tory Burch women’s fashion label. It is open to all Ithaca College students, and weekly coaching sessions are offered by School of Business faculty members and local entrepreneurs to help guide students as they crafted their ideas and pitches.

For more information, visit or contact Paul Deamer, marketing communications manager for the School of Business, at

The Drain Flower, designed by Zach Briggs 15, won in the Lifestyle track at the 2013 Business Idea Competition.