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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Big Bang! Competition helps businesses blossom

The future Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg may have been at UC Davis last Friday.

Entrepreneurs from around the Sacramento region presented their own original business ideas in the hopes of winning prize money and insight from experienced businesspeople at the LittleBang! Pitch Event, part of the 11th annual Big Bang! UC Davis Business Plan Competition.

Masters of Business Administration students from the UC Davis Graduate School of Management organized the competition, held at the School of Management’s Gallagher Hall. The 16 competing teams were finalists from the Business Summary round, which selected teams based on their two-page business outlines. Ten semifinalists, based on their scores from the LittleBang! Pitch Event, will be announced today and each win a $500 prize.

The competition provides budding entrepreneurs the chance to explore their ideas with industry professionals and learn how to take their plan from idea to reality. Robert Ryan, chair of the event, said the competition gives young businesspeople the tools to truly start their own company.

“A lot of [competitors] come with ideas, but no framework,” Ryan said. “They want to run with their ideas and see what happens. They get guidance so they can get their ideas going and create a structure for their business. It’s a learning process.”

Any team of entrepreneurs was eligible to compete, though at least one team member must be affiliated with UC Davis. Throughout the year-long competition, teams attended workshops and mixers with leaders of established companies to fine-tune their plans and learn how to pitch their business ideas. Mentors included venture capitalists, attorneys and professors from the School of Management.

Competition sponsors such as DLA Piper, Sacramento Municipal Utility District, Intel and Bank of America served as mentors and judges and provided prize money.

At the LittleBang! Pitch Event, teams presented a five-minute PowerPoint presentation about their business to a panel of judges, followed by five minutes of questioning from the judges. Each team presented twice, to two different panels of judges.

Ideas included new medical technologies, wine importing, a Smartphone travel application and an interactive electronic menu for restaurant tables.

Vishu Mandalika pitched his team’s Scholar Technologies, a web site that would allow tutors to sell their test prep materials online. After the first round of presentations, he said he thought his pitch had gone well.

“The judges’ questions were insightful. They [thought] of things we hadn’t thought about,” said Mandalika, who earned his MBA from the School of Management last year. “This was the first time I had to present [my ideas] to someone else.”

Carlos Correa presented the pitch for his team FlikSense, a company that would provide high-quality composite images for video thumbnails on web sites like YouTube. For him, learning how to present a compelling pitch and getting the opportunity to meet with professionals in his field have been highlights of his participation in the Big Bang! competition.

“The networking has helped a lot. I was able to meet with Adobe Systems,” said Correa, who earned a Ph.D. in computer science from UC Davis and works at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “Getting that feedback from someone who knows the technology and who’s been out there and done start-ups was nice.”

Ryan said that while not all participants end up taking their ideas beyond the competition, some have turned their business plans into successful companies.

“It’s up to them how far they want to take it,” Ryan said. “But even if they don’t make it to the top 10, they could still revive it and turn it into a business.”

The 10 semifinalists will compete in a closed-door judging session on May 13 to determine the five finalists. The final presentations and award ceremony will be held on May 19 at 5 p.m. at the UC Davis Conference Center.

ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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