Move Over, Bill Gates

By Emily Gold / May / June 1999
November 14th, 2007
Wanna make money? How about investing in bottled air? A drive-through coffee bar? How about a Ben and Jerry's of baked goods, or an on-line spice bazaar, an automatic pill dispenser, or a turtle-meat retailer.

These are all ideas recently advanced by teams of aspiring Brown entrepreneurs who competed with one another for seed money to develop their ideas: first prize was $5,000 in cash and another $5,000 in legal, public-relations, and venture-capital consulting services. The competition was the brainchild of Evan Geller '99 and David Cohen '99, who created and managed Brown's first Entrepreneurship Program this year. With the help of more than fifty alumni volunteers and eleven faculty members, seventy-four student entrepreneurs developed their ideas into twenty-four attention-grabbing business plans - and, in some cases, into actual money-making companies.

Geller and Cohen started the program after a three-year stint running a clothing company they'd created during their freshman year. At its peak, the company sold T-shirts in thirty-three stores, including Urban Outfitters. Word spread across campus, and suddenly fellow students were turning to Geller and Cohen for business advice. "We always felt like we weren't very competent to answer their questions," Cohen says. More useful advice, the pair decided, could come from successful alumni entrepreneurs. With that idea in mind, they wrote letters, made phone calls, and drafted alumni and faculty advisory boards.

Open to any team that contained a Brown student, the program included workshops and lectures by notable entrepreneurs, including Tom Scott '90, co-founder of Nantucket Nectars. Helped by alumni mentors, teams wrote business plans, five of which were selected by alumni judges. The finalists pitched their ideas in person to a panel of judges in May. In addition to the first-place team's $10,000 prize, the judges awarded the second-place team $3,000 in cash and $3,500 in services and split $1,500 in services among the other three finalists.

Claiming first prize was Dan Goldstein '98, who will use the money to build Proletariat Entertainment Inc., a short-form video game company that aims to create "games for the masses." The idea is to market cheap and free products that are "the television equivalent of video games, sort of what a comic book is to a book," Goldstein says. Players would buy shorter games, then would regularly buy new episodes with continuing story lines.

Second place went to Jessica Nam '00, creator of the baked-goods company Jessica's Wonders. Nam serves customers in search of top-quality goods but who don't have time to stop by a bakery. With names such as Kelli Belly Jelly Banana Bread and JJ's Most Moist Mocha, Nam's creations are already sold in six Providence stores. She plans to use the money to open her first factory.

As for Geller and Cohen, now that the entrepreneurship program is off the ground, they plan to take on a new challenge: Internet retail. "We would love to start a company," Cohen says.

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Related Issue
May / June 1999