What Could a Startup Do with $35,000 in 365 Days?

2014 GW Business Plan Competition winner looks back on a year of growth.

Business Plan
(L-R) Competition Co-founder and Director John Rollins with Team Sensamir members Owais Khalid and Rehan Quadri, Luther King Capital Management Principal Andy Zacharias and Office of Entrepreneurship Executive Director Jim Chung.
March 16, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

In less than 24 hours, the George Washington University will announce finalists in the 2015 GW Business Plan Competition, putting selected teams one step closer to more than $200,000 in prizes presented to winners April 14.

According to Lex McCusker, director of the GW Business Plan Competition, winning can be a much-needed boost for fledgling startups.

The prizes that teams win are often the critical seed capital that they need to get off the ground,” Mr. McCusker said. The winners will be the teams that convince the judges that they understand a market need, have the right solution and possess the passion and determination to successfully implement it.”

Mr. McCusker announced a new $5,000 award in October for startups founded by veterans or that focus on veterans. The addition of the category solely for veterans places GW among the first universities to incorporate veterans into their business plan competition.

In addition to prizes for first through fourth place, special category awards include the AARP “Older-Adult Focused Innovation” award, GWUpstart’s for-profit and nonprofit social venture prizes, the Quinn Prize for “Best International Venture” and Blank Rome’s “Best Undergraduate” award, among others.

George Washington Today spoke with Rehan Quadri, M.D. ’14, CEO of Sensamir about his 2014 win. Dr. Quadri and his partner Owais Khalid— Sensamir chief marketing officer and director of IT—took home  $35,000 and a first place win for their pitch for a calorie-free tablet supplement that enhances a lost sense of taste in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Dr. Quadri shared how winning the contest transformed Sensamir from a proposal to reality.

Q: At what stage was your company when you entered the Business Plan Competition?
A: Mr. Khalid and I were in the initial stages of research and development when we entered. We had created a theoretical formula for Sensamir, acquired raw materials and tested it on a small sample size of people prior to presenting. We had also consulted with many premier researchers in chemotherapy-induced taste loss. With their input, we were able to create a final product that has the potential to benefit cancer patients. 

Q: How did participating in the competition help refine aspects of Sensamir, both the product and company?
A: The competition was extremely important in helping us create an organized business plan. The tutorials and seminars from Business Plan Competition Founding Director John Rollins and GW Executive Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Jim Chung connected us with a lot of great advisers. The most important thing we developed during the process of preparing for the competition was a clear and affordable manufacturing plan and marketing strategy. In addition, we were able to cut costs and create a product that cancer patients of different economic backgrounds could purchase.  

Q: How did the prizes support your development?
A: We have used the money to build and fund a website, file a patent and trademark, begin expanded research and development, acquire raw materials and establish a supply chain. The highlight of the year was finding a reliable supplier for one of our key ingredients and connecting with an oncologist to sponsor a study.

Q: Where are you in the process of bringing Sensamir to market?
A: We are still in the early stage of our first patient trial with the product, and we are not yet ready to bring the product to market.

Q: What goals are you working toward currently?
A: We are working on starting a trial study of Sensamir and refining the product formula. We also are working to lower the cost of the product as much as possible and improve our marketing strategy

Q: What advice do you have for Business Plan Competition finalists?
A: Know the market you are entering and how it will change moving forward. If you cannot anticipate the future needs of your customer, then your service or product will quickly become obsolete.