April 14, 2008

Business Hopefuls Face Off in Annual Idea Competition

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To conclude its search for the best real-world business proposals from Cornell undergraduates, Entrepreneurship@Cornell held the final round of the 2008 Big Idea Competition on Friday. After an audience-wide vote in Statler Hall on Friday, the developers of Scrimple — a website that provides Cornell students with printable coupons from local restaurants, shopping centers and services — were awarded with a $2,500 cash prize.
Matt Ackerson ’09, the company’s founder and one of its directors, said he came up with the idea as part of a project for an MBA course he took last spring and executed it after the semester ended.
“This past summer I came to Ithaca and signed up about 40 clients on a free-trial basis,” Ackerson said, in reference to the businesses in Ithaca and Collegetown that submit coupons to Scrimple. The site allows Cornell students and others free access to coupons offering discounted prices and in turn profits from the participating businesses each time a coupon is printed.
“We’ve had at least 11,000 different visitors to the website, and we currently have 26 paying clients,” said Ackerson, who hopes to expand Scrimple’s scope in the near future. “The vision is to have it in any location. We want to make it as valuable to as many people as possible.”[img_assist|nid=29816|title=Entrepreneurial spirit|desc=Finalists present their ideas at the Big Idea Competition on Friday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Kerry Motelson ’09, Scrimple’s director of operations, shared Ackerson’s enthusiasm. “This is an extremely exciting time,” she said, “and I think it just shows that it’s all about getting momentum.”
Motelson noted the importance of engaging the site’s clients in improving upon Scrimple’s business model. “We’re involving the local business owners in furthering our understanding of the system,” she said, adding that Scrimple is hoping to expand to schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Hobart College. “So far, we’ve generated nearly $24,000 in sales.”
For both Ackerson and Motelson, winning the Big Idea Competition was of great importance. “I probably practiced the speech about a hundred times,” Ackerson said. “I think it paid off — the judges seemed genuinely interested. Winning the competition was really cool, and we’re very excited for the future.”
Entrepreneurship@Cornell is a Cornell-run program that spans all seven colleges and has 46 professors involved with it. It has a stated goal of involving as many students as possible in the creation of new business ideas, which includes, among other things, organizing the Big Idea Competition every year.
Students submitted their ideas in December, and heard whether they made the finals in February. On Friday, the Scrimple team was selected from among the 10 finalists.
Matt Wagner grad was head of the Student Agencies team hired by Entrepreneurship@Cornell to design, organize and market the event. Student Agencies is a student-run corporation that is “committed to providing Cornell undergraduates with the extraordinary opportunity to gain practical experience starting and running businesses,” according to its website.[img_assist|nid=29823|title=Novel ideas|desc=Matt Ackerson ’09, founder of Scrimple, accepts the first place award at the Big Idea Competition on Friday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The event was a huge success,” Wagner said, citing the 150 initial proposed business ideas as an indicator of students’ interest in the competition. “For me, this was an amazing experience. I met some very accomplished and successful undergraduates. From my personal experience, it’s been an opportunity to broaden my horizons.”
Wagner explained that marketing was one of the most important — and often one of the most difficult — tasks in planning events like the Big Idea Competition.
“We did a lot of internal publicity by keeping the contestants in the loop,” he said.
Second prize went to the team that created WePlace: YouTube Product Placement, a company designed to place advertisements on viral media websites. The group of two applied economics and management students took home $1,000. The three industrial and labor relations students who created Yoomi Mobile, a social networking website that stresses real world interaction won $500.