NU students place 2nd in Entrepreneur Idol competition

Amie Ninh

What grew out of an idea for an engineering class for McCormick junior Jonathan Drake and his four partners became the business pitch that won a second-place finish and $1,500 cash prize at the second annual Entrepreneur Idol competition Saturday in the McCormick Tribune Center.

Hosted by InNUvation, Northwestern’s interdisciplinary entrepreneurship forum, Entrepreneur Idol allowed undergraduate students to present their ideas for future businesses to be evaluated based on creativity, quality and delivery by a panel of judges and the audience.

“You don’t need an MBA to be in this competition,” Drake said. “You just need a passion for your idea and the confidence in telling people what you’re interested in.”

The group, comprised of Drake, McCormick seniors Justin Wear, Nicholas Evans and Rick Oleszczuk and Weinberg senior Micah Friedland, competed against 34 other teams from six different schools for a spot among eight other finalists. Their project,, aimed to create an image-based Web site for student groups and individuals to advertise their events through online flyers.

“We sat one day and said let’s do something we can implement at our school where we can add value,” Evans said.

The competition has grown considerably from its first year, said Daniel Arnold, director of Entrepreneur Idol and a McCormick senior. Though the grand prize was $1,000 last year, the first place winners this year received a $25,000 10-week internship through the iVentures10 program to jump-start their business.

“You want to get students thinking while they’re still in college,” Arnold said. “Competitions like this really provide motivation and momentum.”

Grand-prize winners Avelo Roy and Ed Suda, seniors at Illinois Institute of Technology, decided to target girls ages 8 to 14, a group they said was “underserved.” Their business, eMotion, offers wireless communication through a fashion accessory necklace that allows friends to send encoded messages.

“This competition allows us to pursue our idea full time,” Suda said.

Before the launch of Entrepreneur Idol last year, undergraduates who wanted to participate in such a challenge entered the NU Venture Challenge, a university-wide competition. However, undergraduates often did not have the experience to compete against graduate students, Arnold said.

“The end result is for the winner to make their business idea into reality and for people who don’t win to have begun thinking up ideas and to gain an exposure to network venture capitalists and others who can also help them make their dreams into reality,” Arnold said.

Judge Donna Williamson, a managing director at Chicago-based Ceres Venture Fund, said the projects she saw were “very sophisticated.”

“I think it is tremendous exposure,” she said. “It’s very much a real-life situation where you present a compelling proposition to real life investors.”

Other participants also noted the competition’s value, regardless of the outcome.

“I definitely learned a lot behind the logistics of a business,” Weinberg freshman Alexandra Dobkin said.

Other projects that competed in the final round included businesses to turn food waste into fuel grade ethanol, online wills and a college admission consulting firm for students in China.

Alex Freylikhman, a University of Maryland senior, and Corey Capasso, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, pitched an idea for a hookah filter which increases filtration by nearly 50 percent.

“Even more important than just winning or losing, you have a better understanding of the business,” Freylikhman said.

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