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President Joanne Glasser with U-Exchange team members (from left to right) Helena Racicka, Cullin Schaefer, Tatenda Furusa, TJ Newman and Tyler Fryer.
By Justin Phelps '05
Tatenda Furusa ’10 moved into a new apartment in Peoria last summer. The Zimbabwe native and junior international business major was looking to furnish his new living quarters and couldn’t find a television stand.
“This is America,” Furusa said, “the land of plenty. People should be able to get things cheaply and affordably, especially a TV stand. And that was it. I decided this idea made sense. If I felt this pain, I’m sure someone at this school of 6,000 students feels that exact same pain.”
The moment was the proverbial straw on the camel’s back, and it produced an idea called U-Exchange (U for university). The first place award winning project will be an online classified marketplace and central storefront tailored to college students. Through U-Exchange’s Web site, students at a particular university will be able to buy, sell, and exchange textbooks, furniture, and personal items with fellow students. They plan to eliminate the face-to-face interaction with a centralized store where the seller drops off the item and the buyer picks it up.
But as Furusa said, “No man is an island. I need help from everyone on my team and outside help.”
Tyler Fryer ’10, T.J. Neuman ’10, Collin Schaefer ’09, and MBA student Helena Racicka joined Furusa to develop U-Exchange. The group won the third annual Project Springboard Business Plan Competition on Thursday night at an awards dinner at the Michel Student Center.
The group claimed the first-place prize package valued at more than $120,000. It includes a $10,000 cash prize and an additional $15,000 of seed capital; consulting services from Junction Ventures; office space at the Peoria Next Innovation Center; marketing assistance from Converse Marketing; use of a new car from Saturn of Peoria for one year; insurance advice from Coyle Insurance; legal services from Elias, Meginnes, Riffle and Seghetti, P.C., and accounting and technology services from Clifton Gunderson, LLP.
The group might be looking to Converse Marketing in the very near future. They learned this week their name “U-Exchange” is taken. “The great thing is, this summer I don’t have a job,” Furusa said. “This is going to be my job, doing market research and getting advice. We need to come up with a new name and a new strategy.”
Alexis Khazzam of Junction Ventures asks one of the final teams a question during their presentation.
EyeOnLife finished second and earned $7,500 toward their plan, which aims to put touch screens — called the EyeMenu — at tables in sit-down restaurants. With the touch screen, customers can order their meal, request a drink refill, and more. Entrepreneurship majors Natalie Betscher ’10, Tyler Fryer ’10, and Tracy Blasiak ’10 created the EyeMenu.
Paws Giving Independence (PGI) was third, winning $5,000. Founded by nursing major Brandi Arnold ’10, physical therapy major Michelle Kosner ’09, and business major Eric Swanson ’09, PGI is a not-for-profit already established in the Peoria community. Incorporated in September 2008, PGI obtains dogs from shelters and trains the animals locally to be service dogs for individuals with disabilities. PGI has placed six dogs since September.
The Student Fund, created by entrepreneurship majors Luke Lancaster ’11, Katie Miller ’09, and Jeremy Brewer ’09 received the honorable mention and special mentoring award. It plans to offer solutions to financial ignorance by educating young people about money management, investing, and planning for retirement.
Other finalists were Learning Curbs, consisting of communication major Vicky Budynsky ’09, and entrepreneurship majors Melissa Brooks ’09, Katie Miller ’09, and Nate O'Rourke ’10; and Vector Fitness, designed by MBA students Jim Hollenback, Nellie Apostolova ’07, and Sean Moore ’00.
All finalists may have their plans considered for equity investments.
The finalists were selected from a field of 23 teams. Each team of three to five Bradley students presented its business plan before a panel of judges on Thursday. The business plans were judged on greatest market viability or potential to acquire outside funding.
The competition, open to Bradley students in all majors, was established in fall 2006 as a result of a $200,000 gift from Alexis Khazzam of Junction Ventures LLC to the University. Its purpose is to encourage students to think entrepreneurially and create a business plan for a new venture.
The mission of the Springboard Business Plan Competition is to provide real-life experience in business plan development for Bradley students. This mission supports the University’s entrepreneurship major by continually encouraging and educating aspiring entrepreneurs in the creation, start up, and early growth stages of potentially high-growth businesses.
iRepair Squad won the inaugural Project Springboard competition in 2007. Memwas, meaning "the memories," was selected as the winner of the competition last year.