The development and marketing of shoe insoles with GPS tracking devices as a way to monitor the location of children or Alzheimer's patients won Washington and Lee University's second annual Business Plan Competition.
Three 2012 W&L graduates developed a business plan for a company, BullsEye Tracking, and proposed the product, which they called CareWhere. The team members were Matt Gossett, a double major in business administration and French, from Atlanta; Austin Gideon, an accounting major, from Topeka, Kan.; and Katie Hatfield, a business administration major, from Owings Mills, Md.
An online vote of Washington and Lee alumni, faculty, parents and students chose their winning proposal from among the four finalists. The Business Plan Competition is part of the capstone course in W&L's Entrepreneurship Program, which began in 2009.
"The Entrepreneurship Program is in its third year and we’re already witnessing the pervasive spread of entrepreneurial spirit across the campus. What we saw in this year's competition is how excited students are getting about writing business plans and presenting them in a real-world forum for an new ventures that they might actually want to launch," said Jeffrey P. Shay, the Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership.
Shay said that the winning team began with a simple idea of marketing a device that parents could use to protect children or families could use with Alzheimer's patients. They were inventive in finding answers to the problems that they met along the way.
"What is great to see — and I see this in our alumni who are entrepreneurs — is the benefit of the liberal arts education in breaking down a problem and coming up with creative solutions," Shay said.
"For instance, they started with the idea of putting chips in the shoes themselves, but realized that would quickly become cost-prohibitive since kids grow out of shoes so quickly and would need chips in all their shoes. So the idea of sliding a chip into the gel in an insole made sense. Then they had to find a way to make the GPS chip work in a shoe. The learning that takes place in this kind of an exercise is truly integrative."
The Business Plan Competition took place in three phases. Teams presented their plans to panels of W&L alumni at the end of the fall and winter terms. The alumni panel selected three finalists from the fall and one from the spring. Those four plans were featured on a website that included executive summaries along with videos of each team's presentation, and the site invited members of the W&L community to vote.
While the members of the BullsEye team shared the $1,000 first prize, second place went to Cellar Door, a high-end retail wine store. Clean Screen, on-site dispensers for sunscreen, was third, and The Helm, a smartphone application for college campuses, came in fourth.
"As the Entrepreneurship Program becomes more established and visible, I think that the number of ideas that we start with at the beginning of the term and the overall quality of those ideas are both improving," said Shay. "As we continue to move forward, we are increasing the possibility that we are going to have some students launching a business based on the plan they wrote in this competition."
In addition to new coursework in entrepreneurism that leads to the capstone course in the senior, the program has spawned several co-curricular activities, including internships, a new student Venture Club and a pitch competition.
Jeffery G. Hanna
Executive Director of Communications and Public Affairs