This past Thursday (April 16), teams of undergraduate and graduate students as well as alumni competed $20,000 grand prizes in the Babson Entrepreneurial Thought and Action (BETA) challenge. The event, which is in its fourth year, is hosted at Babson College’s Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship.
Three semifinalist teams in each category presented their ventures to a panel of 10 judges and one from each category was selected for a $20,000 prize. “The teams did not make it easy for the judges,” says Janet Strimaitis, executive director of the Blank Center. She said the reason why is students this year did a great job of tapping into networks outside of the private business school.
“We don’t have engineering and science, but the students have gotten ideas outside of consumer products,” Strimaitis explains. “They’ve tapped into networks outside of Babson to tackle big problems. We had teams in the clean energy space. Another team tapped into the clean hands issue in medical environments.”
Indeed, they had ventures producing everything from a hand-hygiene measurement and analytic platform for medical facilities to a provider of clean energy to slums in developing countries to a tea company.
A RICH ENTREPRENEURIAL UPBRINGING
While the winners of the undergraduate and graduate categories are examples of the diversity of ideas in the challenge, they both personally come from a lineage of entrepreneurship. Hanson Grant, a junior at Babson, had the beginnings of his winning idea when he started a t-shirt company in high school. “I was experimenting with adhesives and dry erase coding, trying to invent a dry erase t-shirt,” Grant recalls.
When Grant graduated from high school he left the t-shirt company behind. But the entrepreneurial spirit stayed close. Both of his parents are entrepreneurs and self-employed and Grant wanted to follow their paths. He applied to a few East Coast schools but when he was accepted to his “reach school” of Babson, he decided to go.
It was during prof. Len Green’s Ultimate Entrepreneurial Challenge course when the second piece of his winning idea was put together. In the elective course, students are given ordinary objects and told to come up with out-of-the-box ideas with them.
“Our group was given a mug and told to make it into something entrepreneurial,” Grant says. “We made it into an optimism mug by cutting it off half way so it was always half full.”
‘THEY WENT BANANAS OVER IT’
As Grant was brainstorming ideas, he wanted a writing surface. So he took what he had learned from adhesives and dry erase surfaces and created a clear sheet of dry erase surface with an adhesive back. He put it on his dorm room desk. Soon others in the dorm started taking notice and asking about the product.
“They went bananas over it,” Grant says.
Suddenly, Grant had a product and a market. He called it Think Board. He soon realized college students don’t have a lot of money so he started reaching out to businesses. Companies can put their own logos on the Think Boards they but in their offices. Finally, Grant partnered with a local middle school to put Think Boards on the desks of students.
And that’s the market where Grant sees the most room for growth. He’s spent the past few weeks developing the product based on recommendations from teachers and students and will soon be introducing the product to other schools. “We hope to be in five middle schools by the end of the summer and 50 schools before fall semester begins and then nation-wide by 2016,” says Grant.