New Director: GW Business Plan Competition Guides Students from ‘Idea to Impact.’

Jan. 20 is the deadline to enter the competition and vie for more than $200,000 in prizes.

Lex McCusker
Lex McCusker brings more than 25 years of experience as the new director of the GW Business Plan Competition.
January 07, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

Successful startups have three qualities: creativity, imagination and ability, according to Lex McCusker, the new director of the George Washington University Business Plan Competition.

In his new role, Dr. McCusker said he wants to bring an interdisciplinary approach to entrepreneurship.

“A team of just business students or just techies usually doesn’t perform that well. You need people with different areas of expertise and complementary talents,” said Dr. McCusker, former CEO of AT&T’s text-to-speech venture NaturalVoices. “So we’re focused on pulling students from all schools and disciplines and guiding them from idea to impact,” he said.

Dr. McCusker visited classrooms and spoke to nearly 2,000 students this fall to encourage them to enter the 2015 competition. In its seventh year, the competition offers more than $200,000 in prizes, a new veteran-focused award, a new international venture prize and a reputation as the largest contest of its kind in the region.

The competition is open to all GW students, faculty, alumni and researchers. The deadline to enter is Jan. 20. The final competition will be held April 14.

Students who submit an early draft this week will receive immediate feedback before formal submissions are due, Dr. McCusker said.

In October, GW Business Plan Director Lex McCusker announced the a new veteran-focused award totalling $5,000. The award was announced at Semper Startup, an entrepreneurship conference for veterans held at GW. 

An online networking event will be held Thursday, and a startup clinic, led by Dr. McCusker, Jim Chung, executive director of innovation and entrepreneurship, and Melanie Fedri, coordinator for social entrepreneurship in the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, will be held Jan 14.

Participants also can receive mentorship from alumni and friends of the university in industries from technology to medicine and food.

“It’s really experiential learning, especially for younger students,” said Dr. McCusker, the former dean of the School of Technology Management at the Stevens Institute of Technology. “The struggle to create a solution to a problem and take that idea to market is so valuable.”

Dr. McCusker built a career in research and development at the historic Bell Labs after finishing his Ph.D. in experimental psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. Known for innovative research, Bell Labs brought together experts in disparate fields to explore common problems from different angles.

Dr. McCusker said the company’s approach is a valuable lesson for young entrepreneurs.

“For example, take Corcoran [School of the Arts and Design] students,” Dr. McCusker. “They may not realize it, but those students are perfect for this type of competition, because startups—especially tech startups—are desperate for the creativity and design talents they can bring.”

Dr. McCusker said that his office is always open to students who are considering joining the competition or are looking for a mentor or a chance to discuss an exciting idea.

“I keep a list of people who want to be on teams with other students and of mentors who’d like to participate,” he said. “My expertise is in connecting students, researchers and faculty to the industry. This is a great opportunity for the entire university community to get involved.”