UI students pitch ideas for next big business

URBANA – The next YouTube may have been born on Thursday night.

In a business version of speed dating, nearly a dozen University of Illinois students weighed in with their ideas for the next big business. Possibilities ranged from a music networking site to a travel agency for Americans to get medical care in other countries.

As part of the Cozad New Venture Competition, the UI students – from freshmen to graduate students – either presented an idea they wanted to develop or showed up to bring their skills to another's idea.

The session, held at Rosati's Pizza in Urbana, helped launch the monthslong competition, where the "most fundable" business plan would get approximately $60,000 toward creating a locally based business, said Stephanie Larson, program marketing specialist for the UI's Technology Entrepreneur Center.

Each "idea" student had 90 seconds to pitch that idea to the "skills" students, with a bell signaling their conclusion.

Jake Chen, a senior in materials science and engineering, talked about building a Web site where musicians could find each other, to form anything from a band to an a cappella group. A musician himself, he said it can be difficult for other musicians to connect to complementary talents, especially outside of the university.

Freshman Celestine Kao formed her idea when she was home one night and the house was way too cold. She thought of how some windows can shift from full light to shade, she said, and wondered if that could be applied to heating homes.

Kao told the gathered students – along with a group from the UI Technology Entrepreneur Center – that she wanted to create home insulation that relied on thermal energy to heat and cool the house.

And Novi Roy, a senior in economics, got his idea – a travel agency to help people get cheaper, safe operations in other countries – after his father had to get an expensive operation. His father was insured, but Roy had another friend not so lucky.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel. We already have travel agencies," he told students. "I'm looking for marketing and sales people – and also legal people, because I don't know how legal this is."

Laura Hollis, a clinical professor in entrepreneurship in the UI College of Business, said one goal is to help students start thinking about how they can better their world through a new venture, getting ideas from their own experiences and developing them using UI resources.

She cited previous winners, one of whom created a solar-powered lantern to be used in developing countries, a project now in development. Another winner created a device worn around the neck that translates brain impulses into speech. (Check them out at www.greenlightplanet.com and www.theaudeo.com, respectively.)

"What we're trying to do is get students into the pipeline," Hollis said. "All of these problems actually are opportunities."

Roy's idea seemed to generate a lot of excitement among the "skills," including freshman and future business major Adam Yala.

Yala joined on the skills side, but hopes by the time he's ready to graduate, he'll have an idea to develop.

"I'm really fascinated by venture capitalism," he said.

Larson said interested students have until Dec. 19 to enter the competition.

Roy hopes one day soon his project moves forward, with a team providing all the skills to get it going.

"I've had this idea for so long," he said. "I need a bunch of people who will give me a chance and not think it's silly."

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