Inspiring entrepreneurs

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | 3:36 p.m. CDT; updated 7:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
Robert Miller and Matthew Hess won the grand prize in the for-profit category at the New Venture Idea Competition with their DropClip Mobile Coupons application that sends savings coupons right to the user's cell phone.

COLUMBIA — Encouraging entrepreneurship has become such a focus at MU that in 2005, UM President Elson Floyd appointed a Vice President for Research and Economic Development to “enable and lead Missouri’s transformation toward a knowledge-based economy dependent on innovation and entrepreneurship.”

In the same year, MU alumnus Leslie Flegel helped create the Flegel-Source Interlink Academy for Aspiring Entrepreneurs in MU’s Trulaske College of Business. Flegel is the founder of Source Interlink Companies, a leading publisher in magazines and online content, based in Florida.

“He has been a successful entrepreneur for almost his entire career and wants to encourage that spirit within the Trulaske College of Business,” said Alan Skouby, co-director of AAE.

It was through AAE that MU’s New Venture Idea Competition was introduced to the students. Although there is a maximum of 20 students allowed to actively participate in AAE, the competition is open to all students. Skouby said the competition was started as a way to spread the word about entrepreneurship and to give students a place where they could present their ideas and receive feedback from experts.

The competition has proven fruitful for students willing to take the initiative, as is shown by this year’s grand-prize winners in both the for-profit and not-for-profit categories. The third annual New Venture Idea Competition was held in November, and its winners have been working to execute their ideas since then.

Graduate students Matthew Hess and Robert Miller took top prize in the for-profit category with their plan for DropClip Mobile Coupons, an application offered on Facebook, a social networking Web site. DropClip offers its users savings coupons through their cell phones, which was an idea that evolved out of motivation to build a company around emerging mobile phone technology, Hess said.

“It wasn’t until May, when Facebook launched its platform for software developers that we started getting really excited about the idea,” Hess said. “The platform allows us to reach millions of Facebook users.”

Although the application was initially created for their High Growth Ventures class, Miller and Hess used their idea and contest entry as real-world practice.

“Matt and I thought it would be a good exercise to do because it would be good practice for making sales pitches to local businesses and that the real-world feedback would either validate our idea or provide suggestions for improvement,” Miller said.

This year’s New Venture Idea non-profit winners had a different approach to their entry process. Seniors Melissa Chapman, Martha Haddock and Paige Hendrix presented the judges with their plan of Stop Traffic Now: 2008 Anti-Human Trafficking Conference, which was held in March.

“We had already begun planning for the conference, with heavy meetings and budgeting in September,” Chapman said. “And when we saw that this was an opportunity, we thought it would be a great way to get more funding for the conference.”

With their $1,500 prize, the young women were able to lower delegate fees and bring in additional speakers.

Chapman said the conference went extremely well and their attendance was higher than anticipated. When faced with the question of whether they would be willing to plan another conference, Chapman said she was confident it could be done again but that there were alternate factors to think about.

“We’ve thought about making it an annual thing, but we’re not sure if we would get this kind of response annually,” she said. “We’d like to keep attracting the same people but also reach out to even more.”

DropClip Mobile Coupon creators Hess and Miller have also hit a snag. Since the application’s initial introduction, interest in DropClip has been decreasing. However, Hess and Miller said they are still optimistic.

“Although DropClip is on hold, we are still very excited about the opportunity to build applications on social networks,” Hess said. “We are currently considering a number of other projects on both Facebook and MySpace.”

Their latest project was Party School, another application launched through Facebook. Miller described it as a “just for fun” application, which is easier to manage until graduation in May.

“After we graduate, we hope to take what we’ve learned from Party School and apply it to ideas with real world utility,” Miller said.

The New Venture Idea Competition will have its fourth call for entries this fall.

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