December 7, 2001

C.U. Big Red Venture Kicks Off Idea Competition

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Cornell’s Big Red Venture Fund (BRVF) kicked off its second Business Idea Competition with a meeting in Sage Hall’s Parlor Room yesterday afternoon.

Said student partner Justin O’ Keeffe JGSM ’02, “The aim of the event was three-fold: introducing the Business Idea Competition [BIC], partner recruiting, and presenting Gene Network Sciences, Inc. [GNS].”

The BRVF, a venture capital fund run by students at the Johnson Graduate School of agement, launched the event with an introduction of the group’s goals by student partner Robert Chesley JGSM ’02, followed by an introduction of GNS, BRVF’s first investment, by its President and CEO, Colin Hill, a Cornell Ph.D student.


The BIC itself is designed by the BRVF to encourage Cornell professors, alumni, and students-both graduate and undergraduate-with business ideas to submit them for review. Interested participants must complete an entry form, available at the group’s Website , by February 28, 2002.

The form requires that they discuss their ideas and present a general business plan. A panel, consisting of the BRVF’s seven student partners and their Board of Advisors-including Rich Marin and Rob Ryan- will then review the different ideas and select about 10 finalists, who must then make a presentation to the panel. The winners will be announced in April.

The grand prize winner will receive $10,000 while the first and second runners-up will receive $2500 and $1000 respectively.

In judging the ideas, the panelists will focus on the quality of the ideas presented. O’Keeffe said, “We look at the [idea’s] potential to grow.”

Fellow student partner Brian Culley JGSM ’02 distinguishes the BIC from similar competitions by funds at other universities, saying, “The BIC is different than people submitting business plans.”

He adds, “It’s a lot easier for people applying,” referring to the relatively short 10-question entry form.


The group’s goal is to receive at least 150 applications this year, just under twice the 84 submissions they received last year.

Chesley said, “Some people have more than one idea and we would like those individuals to submit multiple entries.”

BRVF anticipates a variety of ideas this year. “We’ll probably see fewer e-business ideas this year,” predicted Culley. He also stated a few more general factors that the panelists will search for, including barriers to entry and value proposition.

Although the group encourages everyone with ideas to participate, student partner Geoffrey Good JGSM ’02 said, “We generally look for high-return businesses and ideas [based] on patented technology.” In the end, however, there is no limit to the types of proposals that the BRVF accepts.

“People on this campus are constantly creating new gadgets and finding solutions for other people’s problems. We want people to be creative and take a chance at winning the grand prize. There is no downside to this contest,” said Chesley.

While the BIC was one of the focuses of yesterday’s event, the BRVF partners were also interested in recruiting first year JGSM students to take over their positions for next year, as well as increasing overall visibility on campus.

Student partner Kerry Dolan JGSM ’02 commented, “We had a good turnout [tonight]. A number of students are excited about the fund.”

The group further succeeded in spotlighting its first investment, GNS and one of its founders, Colin Hill. GNS itself is a computational biotechnology company whose software includes the ability to model living cells and is designed to aid biotech and pharmaceutical companies in their research.


According to Hill, GNS is “on the way to revolutionizing pharmaceutical drug discoveries via the integration of tons of genomic and molecular biology data into predictive computer simulations of hu cancer cells.”

The BRVF worked closely with Hill and GNS to help create a business plan and provided various other incubation services. They ultimately invested $125,000 in the company.

Hill said, “The BRVF has been very helpful in accelerating the business development process of Gene Network Sciences.

The massive hurdles of getting a business launched from a scientific or technological idea necessitate involvement of business groups, such as BRVF.”

Former student partner and the first BRVF member to meet GNS, Mark Zarins JGSM ’01 stated, “It was a great experience because I got to work with companies formed out of Cornell in their early stages and have seen them growing into something bigger this year with the Big Red Fund’s assistance.”

He is also confident of GNS’ success, saying, “GNS is a great group of people and we expect them to be very successful.”

Further Investment

The group has not yet stated further investment plans. It is still working with GNS “to make [it] as successful as possible,” said Chesley.

Student partner Thomas Neyarapally JGSM ’02 adds that “It’s a long process, and we prefer to work with the company right now.”

They currently have $750,000 but eventually hope to increase the fund to $10,000,000.

The group receives alumni donations to invest, though the alumni themselves do not receive any returns. “The alumni make donations to help further our education,” said Neyarapally.

More Goals

The BRVF’s other goals for the year include “continuing to improve the entrepreneurial culture on campus,” said Chesley.

He hopes that the BIC is one way to “increase the entrepreneurial spirit” at Cornell and says, “We are always looking for entrepreneurial individuals to help develop our portfolio companies.”

Archived article by Shalini Saxena