Events & Media

Eco-Entrepreneurship Team Set to Compete for Cash at Harvard
Team Smarty Pants will test its business model against those of 27 other teams in the semifinals of the International Business Model Competition.

The MESM 2013 Eco-Entrepreneurship Project team Smarty Pants has earned one of 28 semi-finalist slots in the 2013 International Business Model Competition (IBMC), to be held at Harvard Business School May 3-4. Several members of the group that includes Alex Dragos, Susan Dworsky, Bryan Latchford, Jessica Mkitarian, and Sarah Stark will travel to Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 1 to compete. 

Smarty Pants members (from left) Sarah Stark, Alex Dragos, Jessica Mkitarian, Bryan Latchford, and Susan Dworsky take questions from the audience following their Final Eco-E Project presentation at Bren Hall.

Winners will be selected by international start-up gurus Steve Blank, Alex Osterwalder, and Nathan Furr. The top three finishers will receive cash prizes of $25,000, $10,000, and $7,500 respectively, with every semi-finalist taking home at least $1,000.

"We've submitted our model to a lot of competitions and have received good feedback but not advanced as far as we would like," says Latchford. "This is a strong competition, so we're really happy to move to the semifinals. It shows that we can stand up against projects from accredited business schools that have national standing."

The Smarty Pants team is trying to launch a business that would create and market environmentally educational media that aligns with nationwide academic standards and encourages environmental stewardship among youth.

Emily Cotter, Eco-E program manager, expressed satisfaction at the students' success in a competition that evaluates them on the same criteria that the Bren School Eco-E focus employs to develop new-business models.

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"Of the many competitions that our students could participate in, this one, because of its focus on a systematic, hypothesis-driven approach to validating the proposed business model for a new venture, is the most

well aligned with our Eco-E curriculum," Cotter said.

Further, she added, "Smarty Pants has done an outstanding job of testing its business model by 'getting out of the classroom' to validate their assumptions — including interviewing more the 150 potential customers and industry experts to date. Also, they successfully created a pilot webisode, now in post-production, which they will soon be able to test in front of potential customers to gather more valuable feedback to help refine their product offerings. On top of all that, they are just a joy to work with. Their passion for their project shows, and they have tons of supporters rooting for them."

The International Business Model Competition (IBMC) is the first and largest competition of its kind in the world. This year's competition involved 11 qualifier competitions, 1,383 teams, 143 schools, and 10 countries.

To enter the competition, the group submitted a Powerpoint presentation with voice-over detailing the evolution of their business model since the idea for Smarty Pants first came up in February 2012, including their hypotheses and assumptions and how they were tested, as well as how the product developed as a result of what they found.

The Eco-E Project guidelines require Eco-E teams to participate in at least two new-venture competitions: the Bren School Net Impact New Venture Competition and the UCSB New Venture Competition.  But, says Cotter, "We encourage the teams to apply to more.  It's a chance for them to practice giving a pitch for funding, which they may need to do in real life to obtain funding from investors.  It's also an opportunity to win prizes to help launch their ventures if they are serious about doing that after they graduate from Bren, and Smarty Pants is."

"It will be a good for us to see how other business models have come about and how ours compares, and to have the experience of getting legitimate feedback from the business world in a business school atmosphere," said Latchford. "Just being on the East Coast representing our plan and the Bren School will be great, because it can be hard to get your name out to distant places. Plus, we should be able to make some good contacts while we're there."