USF Magazine Summer 2013

Volume 55 | Number 2


Perfect Pitch

| College of Business

From left, Michael Fountain, Scott Riley, Casey Henry and Moez Limayem at USF’s College of Business.
Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

When Casey Henry walked before the panel of judges in the Fintech Business Plan Competition in April, she was unsure about her chances of getting funding for her startup business: a paintball field.

The finance major was sure of herself and the numbers behind her budding business, but she knew she was the only solo undergraduate student among the student-owned companies vying for the $15,000 prize. And she knew she was up against others who were hawking trendy concepts.

As the finale to nearly four hours of presentations, Henry needed to make a big impression on the judges. She had presented her 25-page business plan to banks in the past, and while they all complimented her plan, none had come through with funding.

“Paintball. I know what you’re thinking,” the petite, 21-year-old confidently told the USF judging panel. “So what? Who cares?”

By the end of her rapid-fire 10-minute presentation, Henry had convinced the judging panel to care about South Tampa Paintball.

“The best presentation of anybody today,” said Scott Riley, CEO of sponsor company Fintech and a serial entrepreneur himself, acknowledging that he originally was skeptical of Henry’s concept. “You’re right on, you’ve got everything buttoned down.”

Now in its fifth year, the Fintech Business Plan Competition has provided $75,000 in seed money to local companies owned by USF students from all disciplines. The cash prize is just one perk of competing: the judges and cosponsors offer in-kind services, such as accounting and legal advice, that are invaluable to a company trying to find its footing. The judges, local business leaders who have built their own companies brick by brick, grill presenting students on the mechanics of their planned startups and point out strengths and pitfalls.

Henry was competing against six other student-owned companies looking to the Fintech competition to fuel their dreams of owning a viable business. And whether the idea was a curvy solar panel, a grocery catering to low-income families, or a company selling biomedical supplies to third-world countries, many of the presenters captured the panel’s attention.

“It was a very hard choice, and it took us a while to figure it out,” Riley says.

“There were three to four definitely strong, viable concepts that I think are going to be successful businesses. I think they’ll definitely get off the ground, which is a big step from just entering a contest.”

The annual contest is hosted by USF’s nationally-ranked, interdisciplinary Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the USF College of Business, in collaboration with the College of Engineering, the Morsani College of Medicine and the Patel College of Global Sustainability. Center Director Michael Fountain says the competition exemplifies the way USF goes about entrepreneurship education: bringing students to the intersection of education and practice, and providing opportunities for engineers, doctors and business people alike.

By this summer, 17 companies that have competed in the Fintech Competition will have launched, Fountain says.

“I want to be able to look across the Tampa Bay region, the state and even the nation and see our students creating successful businesses,” he says.

Riley started sponsoring the contest to help entrepreneurs like himself. “I’ve just been impressed by the quality of the students that were involved in the program,” he says. “The Center for Entrepreneurship teaches them to think like an owner, not an employee.”

“This competition helps prepare students for success as entrepreneurs who create companies and jobs,” says College of Business Dean Moez Limayem. “It also helps foster the kind of thinking that intrapreneurs — people who think like entrepreneurs but work for more traditional businesses — need to be successful,” he adds. “We want students to think creatively and be able to sell their ideas, whether they aspire to advance to the corporate boardroom or launch their own companies.”

Engineering masters student Joe Arthur came up with a concept for a solar panel that co-generates energy and heat several years ago, and has been competing in entrepreneurial funding competitions since then. Arthur explains that his concept is unique because the panel is made up of parts that are already commercially available. The competition, he says, helped him understand he needs to clearly convey that to a layperson seeking to invest.

“Every time you go in front of a group of investors, they have a different set of questions to make you prove your business idea,” says Arthur, who works in the energy industry. “The group of Fintech judges was very diverse and very schooled in the different aspects of running a business.”

Abdoulie Jammeh, with a photo of his late sister, who inspired his biomedical supply business.
Photo by Aimee Blodgett | USF News

For some contestants, the business plan competition was about more than making a living. Abdoulie Jammeh, a native of Gambia and an Executive MBA student, hopes to help developing countries with his business, MedAlign, a company that would sell overstock biomedical supplies at a deeply discounted rate.

The company’s launch is scheduled for next year.

While MedAlign would operate on a for-profit basis — Jammeh’s business plan estimated $3 million in profit from selling to Gambia alone — it would meet a need African nations face: a lack of necessary medical supplies to perform basic surgeries and medical procedures. And, it would also reduce waste from the American side.

Jammeh’s passion stems from a deeper, personal source. In 2009, his sister died at age 30 in Africa because there were not sufficient tools to diagnose her illness.

“At many hospitals, these basic supplies are not there,” Jammeh says. “When these things happen in your family, you never quite move on, but the way you can turn it around is to use it in a positive venue.”

Closer to home, third year USF medical student Andrea Little and information technology student Hector Angus started 1 Apple Grocery in Tampa’s Sulphur Springs neighborhood to help provide healthy choices for a neighborhood with few big box grocery stores. The store contracts with the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) office that provides federal grant money to help low-income families eat a nutritionally balanced diet. WIC recipients are provided with a voucher for food items, but it can be challenging to find WIC-approved items in typical grocery stores.

Everything at 1 Apple is already WIC-approved, and can be purchased with a voucher. The store’s location across the street from the WIC office means that customers can walk straight from getting their voucher at the WIC office to the grocery store, important because many lack reliable transportation.

Andrea Little and Hector Angus standing next to produce and other packaged goods.

Andrea Little and Hector Angus at 1 Apple Grocery, the business they started.
Photo by Katy Hennig | USF News

Launched in 2012, 1 Apple Grocery turned a profit by its seventh month, but Angus and Little hope to open other stores by 2014. Though 1 Apple was named as a runner-up in the Fintech competition, Angus says the process gave them business insights and helped them hone their presentation skills.

“Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn,” Angus says. “We gained a lot of knowledge from interacting with the array of business people who were there that day. You can’t put a dollar value on the experience we had.”

With the $15,000 in hand, Henry aims to open her paintball field in July. The business will cater specifically to teams playing competitive tournament paintball, as well as group recreational paintball, to avoid dips that come with turns in the economy. Henry estimates a 22 to 27 percent profit margin of $39,000 to $50,000 within the first year.

Henry, who transferred to USF in her second year, says part of what drew her to the university was its location in the midst of a thriving business community where she could pursue her ambitions in the real world as well as the classroom.

The Fintech competition, she says, solidified her identification as a USF Bull — tying her business dreams to her student status.