An eco-friendly online fashion retailer and a mobile app developer shared the top prize in the 11th annual Bard Center for Entrepreneurship Business Plan Competition.
It was the first time in the competition's history that two finalists were chosen as winners. About 250 people attended the June 13 event and awards luncheon at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Denver.
“Never before has this happened – it’s the most fantastic thing," said Madhavan Parthasarathy, Ph.D., director of the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, which is part of the University of Colorado Denver Business School. "The judges couldn't decide between them."
Scenes from the Business Plan Competition:
Denise Horton, owner of Beautifuli.com, and the team of Rob Carpenter and Jeff Macco, founders of AppIt Ventures, each received $7,500 for finishing first among the seven finalists in the competition. Third-place finisher Joshua Pollack, owner of Empire Bagels, an authentic New York bagel store in Denver, won $2,500. The remaining four finalists each received $1,000.
Horton said she worked in corporate marketing for many years before making a "life-changing" move into business studies at the University of Colorado Boulder and entrepreneurship with Boulder Digital Works.
"I'm very proud to be an alumni of CU," she said. "And to have the support of the Denver entrepreneurial community, the judges and all of the people at the Bard Center, I can't thank you enough."
She said she was driven to start an eco-friendly retailer after learning that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter worldwide behind big oil and is the second-largest consumer of water behind agriculture.
"I found over 250 designers that I think are high-caliber fashion e-commerce sites ... designing products locally with sustainable fabrics," Horton said. Her e-commerce business is targeted to reach $1 million in revenue by 2016.
Macco and Carpenter's AppIt Ventures already has booked $33,000 in sales. Macco, who took his first Bard Center class in 2008 and graduated this spring, said AppIt is a mobile app developer that provides low-cost solutions to get app ideas off the ground.
"We help people who lack the time, money and connections to take their idea and turn it into a reality," he said. "It's been a phenomenal experience for me to be a student (at the Bard Center) to now being in the competition and finishing among the top two."
Some 37 entrepreneur projects applied for this year's competition and seven reached the finalist stage, where they presented business plans to a three-judge panel. This year's panel was made up of Chris Onan (Appian Ventures), Nim Patel (iSherpa Capital & Mobile Accord) and Ricardo Small (Small World Capital Partners).
"I really think the caliber and the applicants' plans we push through every year just keep getting better," said Michelle Parvinrouh, Bard Center program coordinator.
After each 15-minute business plan presentation, the entrepreneurs fielded questions from the judges. After hearing Horton's presentation about Beautifuli.com, Onan commented, "You're nails from the podium -- excellent presentation and great command of your material."
Alexandra Antonioli's plan to become the first undergarment maker to sell sports bras with common breast cancer facts imprinted on them drew strong reviews from the panel. Onan commented that Antonioli, who is starting her fourth year in the Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, should widen Two Sisters Inc.'s health-education undergarment idea to a full line of clothing.
Business School Dean Sueann Ambron said the competition is an important annual community event. She noted that the Bard Center for Entrepreneurship, currently located on the 16th Street Mall, will be moved into the new Business School at 15th and Lawrence streets. "Entrepreneurship is what makes the world go round," she said.
Luncheon keynote speaker Jake Jabs, president and CEO of American Family Warehouse, explained how he rose from a poor farm family of nine kids in Montana to one of the most successful furniture salesmen in the nation. "You have to enjoy what you're doing. You have to have a passion for your business, and my passion is selling furniture," Jabs said.
Chris Franks, a Bard Center for Entrepreneurship alumnus and emcee of the awards ceremony, said entrepreneurs "are the people going after the big answers." He said this year's group of finalists, with business plans focused on sustainability, health and mobile apps, represent aspirations to make the world better.
Antonioli said her idea for the educational sports bras arose out of her medical school classes on the Anschutz Medical Campus. "Breast cancer is a universal disease and we don't have enough information out there yet, especially in Third World countries," she said. "My goal is to save lives, and this is my passion."
The other finalists in this year's competition were:
- Clean Sling; Justin Vicory and Bobby Brunnemer -- Company gives guitar owners their best option yet for a product that protects and cleans, while also having options to carry their guitars.
- diningevo; Seth Glaze, Gabe Sellars and Todd Stoltenberg -- Utilizes a mobile platform that gives users more control over the dining process, including tools to decide where and what to eat, mobile device ordering and the ability to stay engaged with a restaurant after they leave.
- Blue Sun Restaurant and Bar; Jeremy McKenna, Jay Newman and Jake Silcott -- Blue Sun will be the first Denver restaurant in which all vegan and vegetarian ingredients and dishes will be stored, prepared and served on separate equipment from meat and dairy items.