Student entrepreneurs pitch business ideas

    A few minutes before presenting his business pitch at the inaugural Startup Incinerator, a product proposal competion sponsored by the Kellogg School of Management this past weekend, second-year Kellogg student Boris Khomut decided to not join his business partners Greg Weiss and Danny Schonfeld, also second years in Kellogg, in showcasing their idea for an internet service called e-Robics which would connect personal trainers with students via webcam. Instead, Khomut explained his idea for a web service that allows users to settle arguments with friends by posting them online to be voted on by other users to decide who is truly correct.

    Danny Schonfeld, Greg Weiss and Boris Khomut of Fuck You, I'm Right placed in the Startup Incinerator's top 10. Photo by the author.

    “I often get into petty arguments with people and I always think if I could just ask a hundred or so people, they would all agree with me and I would be able to look my friend in the eye and say ‘fuck you, I’m right.’” The audience burst out in a mixture of both laughter and applause. By the end of the first round, his friends from the now defunct e-Robics had joined him in developing Fuck You, I’m Right, one of the most hyped ideas of this weekend.

    Startup Incinerator is a competition which puts business pitches head to head for a grand prize of $10,000 in legal consulting from Edwards Wildman. Open to both graduate and undergraduate students, the competition involves four elimination rounds of presentations, each judged by a panel of business mentors. The presentations include a 30-second business pitch, an outline of a business model, product validation and a final presentation in which the remaining teams are ranked based on the most polished and developed form of the product.

    What’s unique about Startup Incinerator is that it aims to give a second chance to its contestants throughout the competition, even if their ideas are not as fortunate. With each successive round, roughly half the teams are eliminated, forcing the competitors to find another project to join.  

    “Instead of a being an incubator, where we’re looking to bake all of these eggs into full-fledged chicks, we’re an incinerator,” explains event coordinator Colton Dillion. “We just want to pick off the bad ideas one by one and sort of regroup all of the talent onto these ideas that actually have a chance.” Dillion conceived Startup Incinerator as his master’s thesis for the Segal Design Institute’s Engineering, Design, and Innovation Program. He hopes to further to project after he graduates, possibly as a television series. This weekend’s event was filmed to serve as a pilot episode.

    Between rounds, these teams meet to further develop the concepts with the hope of getting as close to launch as possible by Sunday evening.  Additionally, they are given business lectures by professors including Mike Marasco and Todd Warren of NUvention. The top two teams also earn automatic spots in the NUvention program.

    Most competitors see the redistribution process as a boon to the idea’s development: “I think there’s a lot of people who want to participate in the process and by doing that you get to learn and go through all the iterations of doing different things and contributing,” says first-year Integrated Marketing and Communications student John Cook, who joined SpringCandy, a dating service, after his original proposal was nixed.

    While most did not mind abandoning their ideas to develop other ones, by Sunday morning there had been two teams who opted out of the incineration in favor of independently developing their projects.

    Ideas ranged from social justice, like Mercy Cards, a service developed by second-year Kellogg student Jed Johnhope, which creates a secure debit card system for donating to the homeless, to just plain social, like Kasey Lundquist’s VoCo, one of the few non-tech brands, which creates a “health conscious specialty cocktail that doesn’t sacrifice tomorrow for tonight.”

    The entire weekend seemed to be dominated by the laughs and applause gained from the Fuck You, I’m Right name that the team made sure to punctuate every presentation with.  By Sunday night, the original 90 ideas had been whittled down to just 10, including Fuck You, I’m Right. Here, the team unveiled a design for an app that was met with much praise from the mentors.

    Ultimately, first place went to LicenseBuddy, a service for licensed professions to keep track of individual requirements and courses they will need.

    “I don’t think we expected to make it this far or let alone win, which is crazy to us,” said License Buddy co-founder Jeremy O’Briant, a first-year Kellogg student. “All of us took a lot of the experience before so the winning is just like a nice added bonus.”

    Khomut did not seem concerned about the outcome, knowing that the positive feedback from the weekend would carry over into the real world.

    “We’re hiring a web developer and we’re doing it.”

    Editor's note, Oct. 16 at 7:50 p.m.: The orginal version of this story incorrectly identified Todd Warren as Tom Warren. Thanks to commenter Brad for pointing out the error.


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