Monday, May. 17, 2010
Five Utah State University students recently placed second in a nationwide Microsoft competition that drew more than 22,000 applicants. The team developed an application that will make easier for people to invest in entrepreneurs in developing countries who are seeking microloans.
Microsoft paid to send 20 top student teams to present their ideas to a panel of expert judges at the Microsoft Imagine Cup in Washington, D.C. The USU team, Extraplaid, made up of students from the College of Engineering and the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, placed second in the software design category. The group developed a Facebook application, AidVenture, which will enable Facebook users to select and invest in specific businesses seeking start-up financing.
The students on the USU team included Yiding Han and Cal Coopmans, doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering. It also included Huntsman School of Business seniors Josh Light, majoring in entrepreneurship, economics and finance, and Sterling Morris, an economics and international business major. Susanna Beck, a general education major, was also part of the team.
The team developed the application and Light created a business plan to go with it. Morris, who owns a media productions business, joined after the team was accepted into the competition. He helped the team create a video to present the application to the judges and to Facebook users. The video can be seen online
, where there is also a link to the Facebook application.
The application is currently set up so people can view profiles of the entrepreneurs seeking assistance. Before anyone can begin investing, however, the new company must first receive regulatory approval, Light said. Within a matter of months, Light predicts the application will be connecting investors and entrepreneurs.
John D. Johnson, head of the management information systems department, advised the students and traveled to Washington with them. He said the group had “great synergy and the result was an application that has the potential to accomplish mighty things.”
“It’s a Facebook application that people can use to lend directly to entrepreneurs in developing countries,” Light said. “So the beautiful thing behind this is that by utilizing Facebook, we connect more than 400 million potential investors to these entrepreneurs.”
The team will work with the Small Enterprise Education and Development (SEED) program sponsored by the Huntsman School of Business. Huntsman students serving SEED internships train and prepare entrepreneurs in Peru, eventually helping them purchase the materials they’ll need to launch their new ventures. The businesses are then expected to pay back the lenders, with interest. Light said his group also plans to expand its assistance into other areas not served by SEED. He said he will travel to Africa this summer to investigate ways this can best be done.
Team members said it didn’t hurt to have Light present their idea. Light seems to be in his own element when he’s pitching a business idea to a crowd. He won the “speed pitch” competition at the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge earlier this year. He also took first place in the “elevator pitch” competition during e-Week at Utah State University this year. Team members said that Light was in top form when he presented their proposal before several hundred people at the Microsoft Imagine Cup.
“I think his final presentation just knocked it out of the park,” Johnson said. “He was so good.”
“After his presentation they were applauding him like he was a rock star,” he said. “He has a very charismatic way of presenting.”
James Cameron, director of the hit movie Avatar spoke at the event. The students were also able to meet some high profile players in the software industry, including Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer at Microsoft. Mundie visited with the USU group and asked the students questions about AidVenture.
“Imagine Cup is more than a software competition,” Mundie said. “It’s about inspiring students to become tomorrow’s technology and business leaders. The technology industry not only is a key driver of economic growth and job creation, but also offers vast potential to solve some of the world’s toughest societal problems. The creativity and passion of these students speaks volumes about the impact they will have on the world.”
Coopmans said the experience allowed them to network with key industry leaders and it gave great exposure to their new company.
“We really appreciate the opportunity that Microsoft has given us,” he said. “They invested some serious money and resources to give students like us the chance to test their ideas and network with industry leaders. I didn't get a chance to personally give Mr. Cameron my review of Avatar, but it was quite the event.”
They also had a chance to meet Anthony Salcito, Microsoft’s vice president of worldwide education, who expressed interest in the project and offered to help the students in the future.
The contest awarded a grand prize, first prize, second prize and third prize in the software design category. Winning the grand prize was Team Mobilife from the University of California, Davis.
The USU students plan to continue their efforts to get AidVenture off the ground.
“This is going to be big,” Han predicted. “It will only take us a few months to get it up and running. We believe it will help a lot of people and prove a good business model for us too.”
Sterling said he’s glad that he had an opportunity to contribute and that he is now part of the new company.
“I see great potential for AidVenture because it takes the whole idea of supporting microloans out of the abstract,” he said. “I’ve been to Peru with the Huntsman Study Abroad program, and I’ve seen SEED in action. The great thing about this approach is that it makes it so easy to invest and change the lives of people who face challenges unlike anything most of us ever experience.”
The students also credit Lauren Johnson, a graphic artist, with helping design the Facebook application. Paul Fjeldsted, a Huntsman School lecturer, helped them sort through the legal issues and Securities and Exchange Commission regulations they will have to understand to get the business off the ground. David Herrmann, the SEED program director, helped them gather the information about real entrepreneurs seeking investors that the USU team needed to set up the application.
More information about the Microsoft Imagine Cup is available on Microsoft’s website
The Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University seeks to inspire and equip students to become innovative, ethical leaders with refined analytical skills that will help them understand and succeed in the global marketplace. The Huntsman School of Business is one of seven colleges at USU, located in northern Utah. More information on the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business may be found online
Contact: Steve Eaton, (435) 797-8640, firstname.lastname@example.org