Student CEOs Win Cash, Legal Assistance at UMass Boston
May 13, 2011
Boston isn’t known for surfing, but two UMass Boston students want to change that by developing a successful eco-friendly surfboard company here.
Michael Emery, a fourth-year management major from Haverhill, and Kevin Schoenthaler, a fourth-year student from Derry, New Hampshire, have been working on their startup company, Sigma Surf Research, over the past two months. And their hard work has paid off: They are the first winners of the UMass Boston Entrepreneurship Center’s Business Launch Competition.
Emery and Schoenthaler’s Sigma Surf Research, which uses recycled and bio-derived materials to create surfboards with substantially less environmental impact than the industry standard, competed against other student-run companies over the past several months for three cash and in-kind prizes:
- 1st place: $2,500, a legal consulting package from K&L Gates valued at $10,000, and three months of access to the Venture Development Center (VDC)
- 2nd place: $1,000 and three months of access to the VDC
- 3rd place: $500 and three months of access to the VDC
Emery says the $2,500 grand prize will pay for the cost of eight surfboards and will help launch a website and social marketing campaign. The legal consulting package from K&L Gates will help Sigma Surf Research become a legal entity so that it can sell surfboards. Now, Emery says, he’ll be able to go to potential clients and say, “I can build you a board.”
The student-run startups have been working to grow their businesses since the competition started in March. Seven finalists made presentations on May 11, and the students were judged on how their businesses have grown since March 1, the viability of their businesses, and their presentations.
“Here at UMass Boston, we don’t sit and write business plans,” says Dan Phillips, entrepreneur-in-residence at the VDC and director of the Entrepreneurship Center, a collaboration between VDC and the College of Management. “We go out in the streets and launch a business.”
Yvon Dorsainval, a senior from Everett, finished second in the competition. He says he’s always wanted to own his own business, so in July 2010, he opened Joy Dry Cleaners on Hancock Street in Everett. The company offers free pickup and delivery for customers of its dry cleaning, laundry, and alterations services.
After doing some statistical analysis on his existing customer base, Dorsainval discovered that his business caters primarily to Haitians and Latinos in Everett and Malden. During the contest period, he targeted that demographic through coupons, car magnets, and Facebook. He also asked for customer feedback, and based on that, he tried to set himself apart from the competition by being open seven days a week and concentrating on ensuring clean shirt collars and cuffs.
The judges commended Dorsainval for his “remarkable amount of execution.” Dorsainval says he will put his $1,000 earnings toward a passenger van to pick up and deliver customers’ clothes.
Third-place finisher Kevin Hom says his WarChamp company earned more than $11,000 in the two-month contest period. WarChamp sells loot cards for the online game World of Warcraft, and it provides video and written tutorials. The judges said Hom earned extra points for his energetic presentation. He said he will use the $500 to buy more inventory.
Hom, an MBA student from San Francisco, California, is on track to graduate in the spring of 2012 so he hopes to have another chance at the grand prize.
As for Emery, he says the experience “has literally been a dream come true.” The judges commended him and Schoenthaler for their strong, clear message, noting they also had made significant progress in the past two months, during which the company refined its surfboard prototype, created network connections with more than 25 companies across the country, and created a Facebook fan page with more than 350 “likes.”
“Attention to society and the environment is embedded in all these companies,” says Associate Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship Benyamin Lichtenstein. “UMass Boston is not an ordinary school.”