By Megan Kelly
Three groups of students at the College competed in the Mayo Business Plan Competition Finale on Wednesday, April 6, in the Library Auditorium at 7 p.m. The groups presented their ideas to a panel of judges that included notable alumni.
First place, along with $30,000, went to senior philosophy and physics double major Nic Freschi and senior physics major Cody Combs for their business idea called Solar Divide. The company specializes in retrofitting traditional photovoltaic solar energy panels with a transparent trough that would put wasted heat energy to good use.
Second place was awarded to Lions’ Laundry — a laundry pickup and delivery service geared toward students at the College that was created by junior economics major Andrew Goodman, junior finance major Peter Heltzel and junior finance major Greg Donohue. They were presented with $14,000.
Third place went to Elementary Robotics, which was composed of a team of freshmen. Business open options major Sarah Sleiman, electrical engineering major Skylar Maxwell, business open options major Megha Rathi and management major Dominic Edward Clark were awarded $6,000 for their idea for a non-profit organization that would allow elementary students to build robots to complete certain tasks and compete in a robotics competition.
The members of Elementary Robotics presented their idea to the judges first. They showed the importance of robotics by playing a short video featuring 10 significant robotic innovations in recent years and exemplified that robotics can be fun by inviting a judge to try her luck at using a robot to push as many ping pong balls across a wooden box as she could. Sleimen then explained the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors and inspiring younger children to pursue interests such as robotics.
“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, STEM jobs take up 5 percent of the work force,” Sleiman said. “However, these fields are projected to take up more than 50 percent of the U.S. economic expansion.”
The group went on to explain that interest in a STEM major is much higher when people are exposed to these topics at a young age.
“This is where Elementary Robotics comes in,” Sleiman said.
They then listed the benefits of Elementary Robotics and the positive effect the organization could have on many adolescents, as the competitions are extended to fourth- and fifth-grade students.
“This program will introduce elementary school students to basic computer programming and building while having fun,” Maxwell said. “Students also learn crucial life skills, such as cooperation, responsibility, communication and sportsmanship.”
The group outlined its market achievement plan and explained how the members would expand the company. Of the 15 schools to which they spoke, 13 endorsed the idea. Jonathan Ponds, the superintendent of Moonachie school district, also supports the idea, according to the team.
“He’s very, very excited about Elementary Robotics,” Sleiman said. “And he wants to start Elementary Robotics in his school district in September.”
Elementary Robotics finished its presentation with a tour of its Website, projected finances and information packets for the judges.
Lions’ Laundry was up next. The group began by explaining to the judges how frustrating doing laundry at the College is, as students deal with broken appliances, stolen laundry and crowded laundry rooms. Members then elaborated on their business idea and described how Lions’ Laundry would work.
“The Lions’ Laundry solution is wash and fold operations,” Goodman said. “What that entails — us going to the residence halls, picking students’ clothes up, washing, drying and folding them and returning then in just a couple days.”
Lions’ Laundry would operate mainly out of Hamilton Washery in Hamilton, N.J., giving 75 percent of its business to that business’ owner, Stephanie Anderson. The group chose Laundry Experience in Ewing, N.J., as its backup business with which to partner. Drop-off and pick-up services would be on Sundays and Wednesdays, with designated spots for each residence hall.
The group then showed a video of three Lions’ Laundry employees clad in khakis and royal blue polos entering Hamilton Washery, picking up three bags of laundry, loading them into a car and driving away. These three employees then entered the Library Auditorium with their laundry bags, walking up on stage.
Solar Divide presented its business plan last, with both a traditional solar panel and a panel fitted with the transparent trough on display. The group played a video showing the problems with fossil fuels and explaining why new energy sources, such as nuclear, wind and solar, are becoming more popular.
The video explained the concept of the two main forms of collecting solar energy — using photovoltaic panels to collect sunlight or solar thermal technology to harness the sun’s heat — and how Solar Divide combines them both.
“We are the only company that separates the sun’s spectrum into various energy applications. Because of this, we are able to produce the most efficient solar panel possible,” Combs said.
The duo then took the audience through its financial plans and business model, comparing the efficiency of traditional solar farms to the potential efficiency of the retrofitted solar farms. They were able to get a commitment from the Ben Franklin Technology Partners and a loan of $55,000, among other forms of funding. They also showed photos of the experiments used to develop the panel and determine that their panel could produce just as much electricity as a panel without their system, and that they were able to produce heat up to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.
Solar Divide has been a work in progress for almost two years, according to Freschi.
“The amount that I’ve learned from doing this and the fact that we have funding and that I can graduate and be like, ‘Mom, I’m going to be an entrepreneur and start my own company,’ is just an amazing experience,” Freschi said.
Although the other groups were worthy competitors, Solar Divide stood out from the rest, according to Dean of the School of Business William Keep.
“I think what separated Solar Divide… was the originality and the innovation they had behind the idea,” Keep said. “They clearly have a passion. They communicated a very complex topic in a way that could be understood and they clearly have scale there.”