Dog-and-pony show for venture capitalists – Business school students compete for $25,000 and a chance to be heard – Pennsylvania team wins USF prize

University of Georgia student Gregory Shrader had only 90 seconds to sell a roomful of judges on why they should fund his proposed digital music company.

It was a tough room.

Benny Evangelista, Chronicle Staff Writer

"You’ve got to give me a better sense of why I care,” said Michael McGraw, chief executive of Pacific Specialty Insurance Co. and one of the judges at the annual University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition.

There wasn’t a Simon Cowell or Donald Trump in the room, but the three- day competition that began Thursday resembled a business school contest that combined the hit TV shows "American Idol” and "The Apprentice.”

The competition, which ends today, drew 25 teams of business students from as far away as the United Kingdom, India, China and Israel. The total prize pot was only $25,000 — a drop in the bucket compared with grand prizes offered by other competitions.

But organizers of the USF contest, now in its sixth year, say it is a major draw — more than 150 teams from 12 countries applied — because it gives would-be entrepreneurs the chance to be seen and heard by representatives of some of the bigger venture capital firms in the VC-rich Bay Area.

"You get exposed to some of the premier venture capitalists in the Bay Area and an opportunity to network,” said Rick Bosworth, 35, an MBA candidate at the University of Texas at Austin. Bosworth’s company, called LoDrag, hopes to market a new ship hull sealant designed to make vessels move faster through water. LoDrag is one of the six finalists for today’s final round.

The judges included Napster founder Shawn Fanning, as well as representatives from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Crosslink Capital, Band of Angels, Skyline Ventures, Angel Investors and Stentor.

"This is the best opportunity a lot of these entrepreneurial teams will ever have to get in front of 20 or 30 venture capitalists,” said Mark Cannice, director of the USF Entrepreneurship Program.

The students pitched a range of technology and biotechnology products. Along with LoDrag, the judges picked as a finalist MicroMRI, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which proposed a virtual bone biopsy addition to medical magnetic resonance imaging.

Other finalists were Alpha V, from a University of North Carolina team that was seeking $400,000 in seed money to develop a prototype of a new micro- battery designed to last up to 100 years, and Ripula, a payroll check card system proposed by contestants from the University of Chicago.

Another finalist was OrganoDevice Technologies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Purdue University. Contestants Frank Shi and Jean Guan have developed a way to make paper-thin organic light emitting diode displays at a low cost.

Shi and Guan, both 29, met while on competing teams at last year’s USF event. Neither did well separately. "So we said let’s go ahead,” said Guan, letting Shi finish, "and put the teams together.”

As a wild-card finalist, the judges selected ThruSkin Technologies, a team from the University of Georgia that said it had a glucosamine cream that can treat osteo-arthritis patients.

The first round was an elevator pitch that gave the teams a nerve- wracking 90 seconds to explain what their companies would do and how they would make money.

Fanning said he remembered once being in a similar position as the contestants — trying to describe to other software developers how his MP3 searching program worked when there was no technology to use as an example.

So Fanning said he sympathized with the contestants and tried to look beyond whether they were able to clearly state what their company planned to do.

"I looked for how passionate they were, how the entrepreneurs were in terms of energy,” he said.

E-mail Benny Evangelista at [email protected].


Pennsylvania team wins USF prize

Chronicle Staff

San Francisco Chronicle

A team from the University of Pennsylvania that pitched a business idea to develop and sell a virtual bone-biopsy addition for MRI scanners was the big winner at the University of San Francisco’s sixth annual International Business Plan Competition.

MicroMRI from the Wharton School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences received $10,000 on Saturday.

ThruSkin Technologies from the University of Georgia won the second prize of $3,000 for its cream for osteoarthritis patients.

The prize for best international business, worth $3,000, went to Relive Biomaterial Group from China’s Tsinghua University. The group aims to research, develop and market material that can be used as a substitute for human bones.

This year’s competition attracted 25 teams of business students from as far away as the United Kingdom, India, China and India, to pitch their ideas to a panel that included venture capitalists and Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster.

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