GW Business Plan Competition Features Student, Faculty Ingenuity

April 16, 2012

 WiseAgg, a search engine for analytics, wins top $25,000 prize.

If the vast amount of information available on the Internet is envisioned as an iceberg, traditional search engines like Google only uncover the very tip. That’s why Zhuojie Zhou and Nan Zhang developed WiseAgg, a search engine for analysts. The engine, which works on a regular computer, uncovers analytics far beyond what a normal search engine can find, giving the user valuable “deep web” data. The idea was so innovative that judges at GW’s fourth annual Business Plan Competition awarded it the top prize of $25,000 in cash and in-kind investments.

Mr. Zhou, a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Zhang, a GW assistant professor of computer science, also won the Plug and Play Tech Award, which will cover travel expenses and tuition for the team to attend a “start-up accelerator” seminar in Silicon Valley to help them refine their business idea.

“The presentations were all very strong and very diverse, so we were very excited,” Dr. Zhang said. He and his partner will use the prize capital to complete the development of the system, as well as work on customer acquisition. The money will also help cover some data acquisition costs, he said.

Mr. Zhou said there is a lot of development ahead for the team, but he’s excited. “This will take some time, but I think it’s a promising project,” he said.

The winners beat out seven other teams in Friday’s final competition. In earlier rounds, the field was narrowed from 144 initial applicants representing all of GW’s schools—the largest number of participants in the competition’s history—to 32 semifinalists, who were invited to develop full-fledged business plans. All groups were encouraged to take part in educational workshops, feedback and pitch sessions and a mentoring process while developing their ideas, said Jim Chung, director of GW’s Office of Entrepreneurship.

The $10,000 second prize went to AthleteTrax, a web-based client management platform for college athletic administrations and student-athletes to increase organization and productivity. The AthleteTrax founders—Jon Halpern, Reinaldo Coriano, Elizabeth Zander and Brian Gross, all GW sophomores—also won the best undergraduate team award of $10,000 and the Audience Choice Award of $1,000, making the team’s total winnings $21,000. Pilot testing of AthleteTrax using several GW athletic teams will begin next fall, with a test including all varsity teams slated for the spring.

“We were just excited to be in the top eight teams,” Mr. Coriano said. “We aren’t ready to go to investors yet, so this money really allows us to delay that and focus on our product.”

The third prize of $4,000 went to Fundzy, conceived by junior Dylan Fox. Fundzy is an online fundraising platform that allows small organizations without official nonprofit status—such as sports teams and volunteer groups—to raise money while giving incentives to their donors. Fourth prize ($1,000) went to Imagnus Biomedical, started by seniors Nathaniel Diskint and Caitlin Keating to market their cost-efficient flow-regulator device for use in medical settings.

George Washington President Steven Knapp presented the Audience Choice Award at a reception following the competition. He called the Business Plan Competition a “signature event” at GW.

“What started here in a very defined way has come to embrace the university, as the university itself adopts an entire culture of entrepreneurship. And that’s exactly what we were hoping would happen,” he said.

Business Plan Competition Director John Rollins, a professor of entrepreneurship who founded the competition, said that over the years, many students had approached him about starting their own businesses.

“We didn’t have a good support organization at that time for feedback and mentoring, and most importantly seed capital. So I built all those things in to the competition, and made it open to anyone on campus,” he said. “Since then, the quality of the competition has gone up significantly. Regardless of whether students are part of the winning team, I hope they’ve learned enough through the process of mentoring and constructive feedback that they will be able to achieve their dreams of starting a business.”

Mr. Chung said he was extremely proud of the finalists’ work on their concepts, as well as their presentation skills and their professionalism. “The judges were blown away,” he said. “The quality and the depth of talent is getting better and better, and this is only year four.”

The event, held in Duques Hall, is funded by entrepreneurs Florida Gov. Richard Scott (R) and his wife, Annette, whose daughter Allison Guimard, B.B.A.’05, is also an entrepreneur. Additional sponsors this year included Capital One Bank, Tech Cocktail, Blank Rome LLP, iStrategy Labs, Plug and Play Tech Center and  Brazen Careerist.