A Ph.D. in aeronautical engineering accidentally discovered a propellant that would be 99 percent cleaner and lift 65 percent more weight than what is used today. About a year later, a first-year engineer tried to get a soda at the Harrison Grille, only to find that it was closed. Both formed teams and won thousands of dollars in a Purdue-sponsored business plan competition.
In March of 2014, Brandon Terry discovered the new rocket fuel by entering numbers into a rocket simulator on his computer. He went to Stephen Son, a professor of mechanical engineering, to discuss his findings. Son told him that he should get a patent for his discovery; Terry listened.
Marek Davis wished there were a soda machine in the lobby of Harrison that would let him pour his own drink after hours. Then he realized the potential his idea had as a business. He formed a team consisting of Purdue freshmen in his entrepreneurship class. They talked to their teacher, Mike Cassidy, a continuing lecturer who teaches ENTR 200, “Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Innovation.” Cassidy said that the team should consider a self-serve machine that would provide frozen yogurt instead of soda, because the market for soda is declining and the market for frozen yogurt is increasing. They listened and entered the business plan competition hosted by the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship.
Terry enrolled in the class ABE/TLI 626, “Life of a Faculty Entrepreneur,” a class that taught him how to commercialize technology that is developed in the university. He went to LaunchBox, a service provided by the Purdue Foundry to help Purdue students start businesses. The class and the program made Terry realize that in order for his idea to become a lucrative business, he would need to partner with bright minds from across the area. He formed a team of business majors and engineers and entered the Burton D. Morgan Business Plan Competition.
At the awards dinner last Tuesday, Davis’ team, the Froyo Xpress, won $10,000. Terry’s team, Adranos Energetics, won $30,000.
It may seem strange that an idea for a frozen yogurt machine pitched by freshmen won even a fraction as much money as an idea for cleaner, more efficient rocket fuel pitched by rocket scientists and business majors, but Bambrah Walker, the program coordinator for the Burton D. Morgan competition, said that the complexity of the plan is not as important as its content.
“It doesn’t matter what the business plan is about. It’s (about) how well-written and how well thought-out the business plan is,” she said.
In Cassidy’s class, students work in teams to come up with business ideas that range in technical complexity but have high feasibility. The students then learn how to bring their ideas to the real world. They conduct market research, make multiple presentations and create company websites.
Cassidy, who has seen hundreds of business plans and presentations and has coached five teams to the finals of the business plan competition, asks three questions to every group of aspiring entrepreneurs.
“(I ask), what is the problem to be solved or the need to be met? What is your solution ... and can it be the solution of choice? Is the writer of the plan demonstrating the capability to deliver?” Cassidy said.
Davis said that Cassidy acted less like a teacher and more like a teammate when coaching the team. He never told the team what to do, but made suggestions and asked for the team members’ opinions on his advice. It was the inspiration and guidance from Cassidy, coupled with the creativity and work ethic of the members of Froyo Xpress, that allowed the team to succeed.
“I want to read about you all in the paper,” Cassidy says to his entrepreneurship class multiple times each semester.
Because of their success in the competition, the Froyo Xpress team hopes to install a self-serve frozen yogurt machine in the Union by 2017. They have already talked to Tom Coleman, the director of retail dining services.