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Big Ideas Pitched at Business Innovation Competition

The Chef Home team skewered the competition with a well-done business plan to take top prize in the U-Imagine Center’s BEAR Innovation Competition that fosters entrepreneurial skills and provides funding for students to bring their ideas to the marketplace.

The next big idea? The winning team in the Bear Innovation Competition cooked up a business plan that targets working parents and sends trained chefs into the home.The app connects clients with private chefs and offers a choices of dishes from varied cuisines.

“The story behind it is easy,” said Xinghui (Gina) Zhu. “We all love food and cooking. That really encouraged us to want to make our plan come true.” That, and practicing before friends, she said. 

A panel of judges asked tough questions of the 12 teams and 35 participants in the BEAR (Be Entrepreneurial and Roar) Innovation competition, Ursinus’s more academic answer to Shark Tank. The judges gave immediate feedback to point out possible pitfalls and highlight the potential.

The U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies held the competition for the third year, and according to one of its directors, this crop of students was “absolutely the strongest field that we have had,” said Carol Cirka. Cirka, with faculty colleagues Rebecca Jaroff ’81 and interim dean April Kontostathis, started the U-Imagine Center during the 2013-2014 academic year. This past year, Maureen Cumpstone ’79 joined as Entrepreneur-in-Residence. The center hosts speakers, runs workshops, develops thinkers and provides support for those who want to turn an idea into a product or service that meets a social or market need.

During the April 16 presentations, students pitched ideas that ranged from a service to help students understand scientific literature, to a Thermo Wear shirt, to a monitoring system for college and university lab conditions to ensure safety.

The work leading up to the six-hour competition focused on how to approach a problem and think through a vision with the support of the Center and its mentors. Supported by trustee Will Abele ’61, the winning teams won prize money to carry through their ideas. Chef Home team members (Xinghui Zhu, Anthony Chang, Kejin Li and Pinhong He) won first prize of $7,500; Team Flitter students (Jamie Maurer, Josh Williams and Chase Babrich), who proposed a social event smartphone application, won $5.000; and Team IVRD (Ivy Road)  (Chanton Phan and Asuka Watanabe), who pitched a program of getting college information to high school students, won $3,000. The Chef Home team will be able to refine their plan during the summer.

“I know how important it is to have teamwork, determination and collaboration,” said Abele, a successful businessman himself, in announcing the prizes.

Other prizes were given for other aspects of the presentations, such as tuition to a Dale Carnegie course presented by Katie Iorio Martin ’88, president and partner of Dale Carnegie, Philadelphia. Rob Gilfillan ’91, founder and co-president of Cenero; Jen Cohen Crompton ’05, president of Something Creative; Jack Smith ’77, president of All Rack; and Rob Whitman, consultant and partner of Enterprise Business Development, American Solutions for Business made up the panel of judges with Martin.

President of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce Rob Wonderling P’16 gave a keynote address in which he praised William Penn for seeing through his ideas. Competition, he told the students, “is learning, growing and enriching, from each other.” -- W.G.