April 24, 2011

Students Win $15K Award In Hotel School Competition

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Dan Mann ’11 and Sam Boochever ’11 won a $15,000 award on April 9 for creating a business model for Fushi Sushi, a healthy, on-the-go sushi company.

Mann and Boochever said they got the idea from the on-the-go sushi businesses that they saw in Australia, where the two lived together during a year abroad.

“We saw a bunch of similar concepts when we studied abroad … We took those concepts and put them together to what we thought would work best for the American market,” Boochever said.

The award was given to the winning entry in the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition. The students said that they had planned to write their business model even before they were made aware of the competition.

“One night hanging out we were just chatting, ‘Wow, why does this not exist?’ … When we came back we decided, ‘Let’s write a business plan and see what we can do with it,’” Mann said. “[The competition] fell right into our hands. It was the perfect opportunity — exactly what we were looking to do.”

Boochever and Mann said they will use the $15,000 first place award to make their business plan a reality.

“We’re hoping to use the money to a) recoup some of the costs that we spent putting this plan together and b) to use it as a little bit of a seed money to actually go through with trying to get this restaurant and make this concept work,” Boochever said.

Mann said the business plan was devised in response to two growing trends within the food industry: sushi eating and eating on-the-go.

He added that originality in the food service industry has grown increasingly difficult.

“In food service it’s hard to create something new these days,” Mann said. “Almost everything has been done. It’s how you re-look at things and re-imagine them into a different society.”

Their business plan is a healthy alternative to other on-the-go options like fast food, Mann said. This, he added, led him and Boochever to chose the name Fushi Sushi, since “fushi” means “eternal life” in Japanese.

The competition took place over the course of the school year, with 39 teams from Cornell of two to five members submitting a letter of intent in October stating their teams and interest in participating. Any undergraduate or graduate student could participate in the competition, but at least half of the team members had to be in the School of Hotel Administration.

In February, the nine remaining teams submitted their full business plan, according to Susan Cabrera Ph.D. ’10, visiting lecturer and one of the chairs of the competition. These teams were judged and cut down to three finalists who made their presentation at Hotel Ezra Cornell, an annual student-run hospitality conference at the hotel school.

“The quality of the actual full business plans that we got was excellent, and I was just blown away,” Cabrera said. “I felt like a proud mother watching the students present at HEC. They made Cornell look so good.”

Cabrera said that she was impressed by the quality of Mann and Boochever’s model.

“I think the thing that set Fushi Sushi aside was it was an easy-to-understand business. It was one that you could see being executed,” Cabrera said. “The presentation that the Fushi Sushi guys gave was as good as any I’ve ever seen from a non-student management team trying to pitch a business idea.”

“Each of the judges asked themselves, ‘Which of these plans would I invest in?’” Cabrera said.

Mann said that throughout the competition he was most surprised that the skills he learned in classes were applicable in developing the business plan.

“I feel like at Cornell a lot of times we take classes and we have trouble seeing how they’re going to relate to our real lives,” Mann said. “It was extremely beneficial to use that [experience]. I was able to use every single class I’ve taken at Cornell to develop this.”

Original Author: Rebecca Friedman