SFU entrepreneurs face off in competition

By Michael Brophy

Texts 4 Health winner develops technology to help practitioners communicate with patients using mobile phones

The fourth annual Coast Capital Venture Prize Competition finals, which saw SFU business students competing for $5,000 in cash prizes, took place on February 11 at SFU’s Segal Graduate School of Business.

The eleven teams were vying for $5,000 in cash prizes amounting $3000, $1500, and $500 for first, second, and third place, respectively. In order to qualify, a predetermined amount of the company or established firm must be owned and controlled by an SFU student. Throughout the day, contenders had five minutes to present their business plans before a board of start-up experts. Similar in proceedings to the reality television show Dragon’s Den, the panellists probed student business plans by testing preparation and questioning statements given in the proposal. Recurrent themes that came up in the questioning period were related to the feasibility of securing financing with venture capital firms or investors, as well as scalability in the sense that the company would have a niche and could potentially grow rapidly. The five judges included Lawrie Ferguson, Coast Capital Savings’ chief marketing and public relations officer and Ian Hand, associate director of SFU’s innovation office.

Presenting companies in the competition came in all forms, most having high growth, technology-oriented models, and were initially funded by the founders themselves. Bella Hwang nonchalantly accepted her first place plaque for her presentation of Texts 4 Health, a company which uses automated text message replies to plot information on potential health problems with an online analytic interface. This technology is meant for communities with high mobile phone usage but low frequency of visits with health practitioners who may now offer advice remotely in a mass communication format.

The second place winner was VenueWize, a startup created by Arvand Alviri which concentrates on helping corporate and nightlife event organizers receive analytics from their guests using existing communications infrastructure. The company has an iPad as well as an iPhone app in the app store. “Don’t listen to the market,” Alviri offered, relating how others told him not to waste time and resources developing an iPad app as event organizers and conference attendees were seemingly unlikely to use the device.

Third place was taken by Ads On Naps, an advertising distribution company specializing in the printing of advertisements on napkins and coffee sleeves. “We want to become the one-stop-shop for non-traditional advertising,” remarked Phillip Chow, co-founder with Jag Manhas, both of whom have appeared on Dragon’s Den.

Venture Connection provides a network of services for students to take inspiration to market. Whether student businesses are mere ideas or established with existing revenue streams, developmental offerings are available; resources such as Venture Labs, co-op terms, competitions, mentorship, networking, workshops, and seminars are accessible to encourage success in the business world. Student companies requiring space for their operations can even apply for rent-free office space at SFU’s Surrey and Burnaby campuses.

Tesovic, the previously mentioned panellist, is also a Billboard Top 30 under 30 reward recipient, 2008 Student Entrepreneur of the Year, and current student in the Beedie School of Business, as well as another beneficiary of the Venture Labs program. Metrolyrics now receives approximately 45 million unique monthly users according to the company he founded in 2004, MetroLeap Media. Venture Connection supplied his recently monetized company with expert advice and a solid exit strategy for selling to CBS Interactive Music Group. After the competition, Tesovic gave the keynote speech, relating his own story of trials and errors in creating a highly successful student run start-up which became a global leader in its industry. Milun Tesovic now works for CBS interactive out of New York City.

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