May • 2012 

Top News

Inaugural Galant Center Challenge Offers Budding Entrepreneurs Real-World Experience, Real Money

         
 

Joseph Linzon (A&S ’15) was offered $200,000 in seed money for PowerSole, a patent-pending personal power system that could be built into the sole of a shoe.

What does it take to score seed money from a team of highly successful, startup-savvy venture capital investors? Answer: a great new concept backed up by a solid execution plan—and the opportunity to make your pitch to the team of investors.

Big Opportunity
It was just such an opportunity—backed up by the lure of as much as $250,000 in startup capital—that the inaugural Galant Center Challenge provided three outstanding groups of budding student entrepreneurs on the evening of April 18, 2012. The Challenge, held at the McIntire School of Commerce and hosted by the School’s Galant Center for Entrepreneurship, was open to students from throughout the University of Virginia; the three finalist teams were chosen from a field of 18 entrants. Notably, the Challenge was not a contest per se—that is, there was no guarantee that anyone would win anything.

“We wanted to provide the students with an absolutely real-world experience,” says Center founder Mark Galant (McIntire ’80), himself a phenomenally successful entrepreneur as well as a tireless advocate of entrepreneurship education. “No matter how many times you sit in front of a VC to pitch your company, you’re always nervous,” he says. “Just imagine what it’s like for a first-year student to have to do it.” But Galant points out that it’s the difficulty of the Challenge that makes it such a valuable educational experience: “When, a few years down the road, that student has to make another pitch in front of a VC firm, he’ll know what to expect because he’s already gone through it.”

Under Pressure
Allowed only 12 minutes to make their pitch to the investors, the student teams offered tightly constructed, compelling cases for the merit of their proposed ventures. They gave pithy explanations of what their product was; what need it filled in the marketplace; what made it better than its competitors; and how much money they would need to launch the product into the market. The presentations were followed by a no-holds-barred grilling from the panelists, who asked questions having to do with everything from product durability and portability to product differentiation.

The panel was composed of high-powered investors Court Coursey, serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and Co-Founder and Managing Partner of TomorrowVentures; Mark Galant, serial entrepreneur, angel investor, Founder and former CEO and Chairman of Gain Capital (FOREX.com), and Founder, CEO, and Chairman of Tydall Trading LLC; Dean Johnson (Darden ’84), angel investor and Vice Chairman of Strategy and Business Development at Rimm-Kaufman Group; and Jaffray Woodriff (McIntire ’91), angel investor and Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management.

“I was extremely impressed by the thought, preparation, and passion the students put into their presentations,” says Galant. “These weren’t just kids coming up with ‘neat ideas’—these were serious young entrepreneurs with creative ideas backed up by solid market research and carefully crafted business plans.”

Big Ideas
Joseph Linzon (A&S ’15) kicked off the Challenge with his presentation of PowerSole, a patent-pending personal power system that, at nominal cost, could be built into the sole of a shoe. PowerSole, Linzon explained, would allow people to generate and store meaningful amounts of electric power—enough, say, to charge a cell phone, iPod, or LED flashlight—simply by walking.

Linzon was followed by Scott Caras (Darden ’13), Matt George (Darden ’13), and Jeff Willis (Darden ’13), presenting Chatter Sports’ “BallClub Baseball,” an online game designed to allow users to act as the virtual owners and managers of a baseball team. BallClub Baseball’s platform, the three told the panelists, combines the game mechanics, interactive rewards, and feedback loops of the wildly popular “Farmville” with the sophistication, complexity, and addictiveness of fantasy sports leagues.

Wrapping up the Challenge was the team of Justin Kanter (Law ’14), Owen Larkin (Darden ’13), Nathan Phalen (Law ’14), and Josh Tully (Law ’14), presenting Partially Evacuated Solar Still, a low-cost, simple, efficient, and portable way to generate potable water from any water source. The still, the four explained, would primarily be marketed to aid organizations and NGOs that work to provide assistance to the 1 billion people around the world who lack access to clean water.

Big Winners
In the end, each team was offered funding (subject to certain terms and conditions) from the investors, who commented on the creativity and viability of each of the ideas that had been presented. PowerSole was offered the full $200,000 that Linzon had sought. BallClub Baseball was offered $50,000, which was $10,000 more than the students had requested in their initial proposal, but less than the $220,000 they asked for on the night of the Challenge. Partially Evacuated Solar Still was offered ongoing advice, contacts, access to the panelists’ networks, and the promise of future funding, once the team further refines its business model. (The team had entered the contest with the full disclosure that they were not yet in a position to determine how much startup capital they needed; they’ll spend the summer at the Darden Business Incubator hammering out the details of their plans.)

“This was a fabulous start to what is sure to become an even more exciting and competitive annual event,” says Galant, who hopes to help make the McIntire School into a leader in entrepreneurship education. But Galant says the real value of the Challenge is the invaluable real-world experience it provides participants. “In my book,” he says, “every one of the finalists is a winner, whether or not they actually get funded.”

Indeed, Linzon says the rewards of the Challenge were more than financial. “Preparing a real-world pitch for real investors and real money provided me with an experience that you don’t often find in a university setting,” he says. More, he reports, “participating in the Galant Challenge has allowed me to grow both as a student and as an entrepreneur—it’s helped me to understand that entrepreneurship is my passion.”

Return to Exchange Home

Copyright by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia