Even in a downturned economy, four students in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas have turned an idea for a test using a woman’s tears for breast cancer into more than $85,000. Mentored by management professor Carol Reeves, the team found success this spring in five major business plan competitions. On May 27, the Tears of Life team took first place and $25,000 in the graduate business plan competition at the 2009 Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Cup, held in Las Vegas, Nev. Team members include three students pursuing a managerial M.B.A. — Jared Greer, Bessie Williams and Chris Elizer — and an honors undergraduate student, Jordan Greer.
In addition, Williams won $1,000 for the team in the graduate elevator pitch, in which she was given 60 seconds to convince judges that the business was worthy of a follow-up meeting.
Winners from state Donald W. Reynolds competitions in Oklahoma and Nevada also participated in the Las Vegas competition. A team from John Brown University of Siloam Springs, Ark., took first place in the undergraduate division.
Walton College Dean Dan Worrell said, “Carol Reeves did a phenomenal job this spring helping the Tears of Life team not only win the Reynolds Tri-State competition, but also the other national competitions. In addition, she mentored four other winning teams this spring. The Walton College aims to teach students how to connect scholarship with practice, and we are thrilled when our students succeed in doing just that.”
The students’ company, Tears for Life LLC, is a medical diagnostic equipment company that is licensing technology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Science. Their screening tests for proteins found in tears to detect breast cancer. UAMS Bio Ventures — as well as more than 15 business people — advised the team on its plan.
Reeves said, “I have been working with the team since August. I’ve seen them grow, develop and take a potentially life-saving idea and convince potential investors that it’s worth investing in. It has been a learning experience for me as well, and I am “beyond thrilled” at their successes.” Reeves is also holder of the Cecil and Gwendolyn Cupp Applied Professorship in Entrepreneurship.
Jared Greer said, “It has been a real honor for us to represent the University of Arkansas on the national stage for the past three months. We owe a lot of our success to Dr. Reeves. She took four students who had a ‘strong entrepreneurial fire in their bellies,’ but knew very little about the actual process of starting a business, and she turned us into an experienced group that feels prepared to face any challenges associated with starting a business in today’s economic climate.”
Williams said, “We could not have gone this far without Dr. Reeves. We are incredibly grateful for her guidance. The whole experience — from the classroom to actually building a business from the ground up to the competitions — has been hard work, but worth every late night.”
Each member of the team works full time in addition to going to school. They began Reeves’ New Venture Development class in August 2008. Since that time, they worked on the Tears for Life plan almost every night after work and on weekends. In the spring, they traveled to seven different business plan competitions — each ranging from two days to four days in length.
Jordan Greer said, “These competitions provide a platform to take what we learned in class and apply it to a real world business setting. Oh, yeah, we got to raise thousands of dollars, travel the United States, and put our business on the fast track for success too.”
Jared Greer said, “In addition to being able to leverage the knowledge and experience of Dr. Reeves, she put us in contact with some of Arkansas’ most successful entrepreneurs — many of them University of Arkansas graduates — who provided invaluable feedback that we would have never had access to if not for her. We had the opportunity to compete with and win against some of the most well respected schools in the world — Harvard, MIT, Brown, Cornell, University of Michigan, University of Oregon, and the University of California-Berkeley.”
The Las Vegas win represents the fifth major business plan competition win for the team this spring: the Tri-State Reynolds Cup; first runner-up and $5,000 and first place for best presentation in the Superbowl of business plan competitions, the Global Moot Corp Competition at the University of Texas; first place and $10,000 and second place in trade show at University of Cincinnati Spirit of Enterprise MBA Business Plan Competition; first place and $20,000 at Tulane University Business Plan Competition; and first place graduate, $20,000 and $5,000 innovation award at the 2009 Arkansas Reynolds Governor’s Cup.
Williams said, “Some of my fondest memories in this whole experience includes beating teams from around the world at Moot Corp and hearing Dr. Reeves’ reaction on the phone when we called to tell her we took first place at Cincinnati.”
Other 2009 Walton College teams’ business plan competition successes:
• Ground Up Biosolutions took first place in the Wal-Mart Better Living Business Plan Competition in April; was a semifinalist in the Carnegie-Mellon University McGinnis Venture Competition; and came in second place in the lightning round and in the trade show competition at the University of Oregon New Venture Championship. The business minimizes the pollution of watersheds and creates a low-cost, environmentally friendly fertilizer from farms’ and municipalities’ byproducts. The team included managerial M.B.A. students Brandon Barr, Joshua McCullough, Keith Solsvig, and a student pursuing a doctoral degree in poultry science and a master’s degree in agribusiness, Cesar Coto.
• Elevate Medical took first place in the University of Nebraska New Ventures World Business Plan Competition in March and second place at the Colorado State University College of Business Venture Adventure in April. The business manufactures a wheelchair that converts to a stretcher, alleviating much of the pain and risk that nursing staff members endure in lifting patients. The team includes Jacob McConnell and Joe Willmann, honors undergraduate accounting and finance students, and Chris Nelson, a biological engineering undergraduate student.
• Silicon Solar Solutions tied for third place at the University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition and took first place in Challenge Round, Flight 6 and fourth place in the elevator pitch at the Rice University Business Plan Competition. The R&D company developed a novel technology that dramatically improves the conversion efficiencies of solar panels by 15 percent. The team included Adam Perkins and Ben Allen, managerial M.B.A. students, and Douglas Wooten, a microelectronics-photonics doctoral student.
• RFIdeas was a semifinalist at the Carnegie-Mellon University McGinnis Venture Competition. The company provides real-time location systems to hospitals with UtilizID, which uses passive radio frequency identification to track mobile hospital equipment. The team included Sam Jagannathan, an M.B.A. student; Michael Pyle, a managerial M.B.A. student; and Nabil Lehlou, a doctoral student in industrial engineering.