The graduate division finals of USD’s annual Business Plan Competition demands something extra. Combine the approach that Assistant Professor of Management Helder Sebastiao demands from his students — a heavy entrepreneurial emphasis and a panel of top-notch judges who aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions — and it’s easy to see how it could be a little unsettling. But in business, tough decisions come with the territory on a daily basis.
Thanks to their presentation on an indoor gardening system called HydrAlchemy, McCoy, Fernandez and Young (pictured with the product’s inventor Cody Barnes, second from right) earned first place, $2,500, and, perhaps most importantly, an overwhelming sense of relief and elation.
“We put a lot of work into this,” said a visibly exhausted but happy McCoy, chief operating and marketing operator for HydrAlchemy, which enables users to grow novelty and decorative plants in a way that doesn’t require them to have a green thumb. “It was overwhelming, but I feel complete satisfaction now.”
The judges Sebastiao enlisted were Trestand Conrique, president and CEO of Rancho Santa Fe Technology, Inc. a USD alumnus (MS in executive leadership) and an adjunct SBA faculty member; Rick Fink, co-founder and managing director of Miramar Venture Partners; Michael Gallegos, president and CEO of American Property Management Corp. and American Property Hospitality Management; and Joe Perez, a USD alumnus (BBA ‘94), who is the executive vice president of product for Santa Monica-based Demand Media.
McCoy said the Business Plan Competition class was by far the hardest he’s taken, but it’s also the most rewarding for the challenges it presented. “When I was taking the GMAT test, this was the class I envisioned the business school being about.”
Judges poked and prodded the students on everything from the name of the product, what urban markets are targeted, multifunctionality as both a plant and “a conversation starter,” and thoughts about their proposed exit strategy.
Fernandez, CEO of HydrAlchemy, agreed with McCoy’s assessment. “This was something I definitely wanted to get out of attending the business school. You learn a lot of valuable lessons here and they give you an idea of what you can actually expect. Getting a foot in the door is the hard part. What (advice) they gave to us was really worth it.”
Added Young, the company’s chief financial officer: “The judges gave us honest feedback. They’re real venture capitalists and we can use it as we carry this forward.”
HydrAlchemy finished ahead of three other graduate business plan teams.
Out of Pain, a business that produces a fashionable, yet foldable, sandal for women to wear as an alternative to high heels or after wearing heels, finished second. The team of Robert Ermich, Omar Fuentes, Swetha Nair and Arthur Oesterle earned $1,500. My Forketta, a business based on the resurgence of the “fast-food” mobile truck stands found in large metropolitan cities, was to specialize in Italian food items. The team of Paolo Rossi, Francesco Rossi and Jayla Siciliano tied for third, receiving $500. ALL Pons, a coupon website business idea proposed by John Kagitcibasi, who wants to aggregate all deals onto one page and only for those which are 50 percent off or higher, also earned $500.
The total prize pool on Thursday was $5,000 and was given by an anonymous donor. The undergraduate version of the Business Plan Competition, also run by Sebastiao, will take place in the spring.
— Ryan T. Blystone