Draper Business Plan Competition Comes to Smith

Photo by Helen Zhang '15 | Winner Melody Setoodehnia ’14 pitches her business proposal for Your Market Match.

Photo by Helen Zhang ’15 | Winner Melody Setoodehnia ’14 pitches her business proposal for Your Market Match.

Alison Yong ’13
Copy Editor

On April 15, students, faculty and staff visited the Alumnae House to peruse the displays of hopeful student entrepreneurs at the first ever Draper Business Plan Competition held at Smith. In one room, five student finalists had already been selected to pitch their businesses later in the day. In another room, nine students competed for two wild card positions and the chance to join the finalists in competing for the grand prize of $10,000 and a scholarship to the Draper University of Heroes, described on the Draper University website as “an unconventional world-class boarding school for the brightest young entrepreneurs from around the world.”

Aside from their impressive products, potential wild cards had stories of how they thought of their ideas. Mursal Naderi ’16 came up with Azada.com, a website where people could purchase jewelry made from “precious stones native to [Afghanistan]” and handbags with tags “made from the facemask” of Afghani burqas. Such tags would “show solidarity and support” for Afghani women.

Naderi, a native of Afghanistan, described the country as war-torn and in need of social entrepreneurship. She said the “products will be made by women in Afghanistan;” Azada.com is “not only fashionable, but supporting a community.”

Many students showed that they had researched the numbers to find out just how important their product could be on the market. Alice Tan ’13 and Eunice Zhao ’13, makers of HygieniCups, had a tower of cups on their table. Tan said the disposable cups had an outer antibacterial coating that would kill 99.99 percent of germs. Last year, over 100,000 deaths occurred from hospital-acquired infections. She said that hospitals went through “6,000 cups at least per day.”

“Doctors and nurses interact closely with patients,” said Tan, recalling family and friends who “went in [the hospital] sick, came out sicker.” She took a cup from the tower and pointed to the band that wrapped around it, a couple inches away from the mouthpiece, describing how simple and instrumental the antibacterial coating could be in saving lives.

Tan spoke of the need for HygieniCups: “There’s nothing like this on the market… [people] don’t have to change their behavior” to use the product.    

Wish Samu ’14 introduced her product ChooseYourWorld as software that would “delete you from [your] immediate environment” and add you to another. Working with Nick Howe, associate professor of computer science, Samu had developed the virtual reality software. Priced at only $5, the program would be installable on the buyer’s computer.

Samu thought of her software as a means of “democratizing knowledge” that would encourage “open access to knowledge.” Young people could create educational videos set in interactive environments that were engaging and professional in appearance, attracting others to watch them.

At the beginning of the presentation portion, the judges were introduced: Melissa Parker Draper ’77, Debby Farrington ’72 of Starvest Partners, Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson (and M. Draper’s husband), Mona Gosh Sinha ’88 of the Smith College Board of Trustees, Matt Bank of Windhorse Capital Management, and Tripp Peake of Long River Ventures.  

“This was so great,” T. Draper, a venture capitalist well-known for investing in Baidu, Skype, and Hotmail, said. “I mean, I make the suggestion to Carol [Christ] … it took off.” He described the event as similar to South by Southwest – the combined music, independent film, and emerging technologies festival – calling it “North by Northampton for women.”

He said, “We think we’re onto something really great here.”

The Smiffenpoofs took the stage in a surprise performance. They sang Hall & Oates “Rich Girl” and had to take out copies of the lyrics to “The Riskmaster,” T. Draper’s song about being an entrepreneur. The chorus goes “He is the Riskmaster/ Lives fast drives faster/ Skates on the edge of disaster/ He is the Riskmaster.” At the end of the performance, T. Draper hugged each a cappella member, adding, “But they got one word wrong – ‘she’ is the riskmaster.”

The presenters included Sicong Ma ’13 of Career 67.com, Mariem Ayadi ’16 of My Touch Screen, Ana Duran ’13 of UBSelling.com, Emma Sager ’15 of Valkyries Lingerie, Melody Setoodehnia ’14 of Your Market Match, and the two recently announced wild cards – Tan and Zhao of HygieniCups and Samu of ChooseYourWorld.

During the presentations, Ma spoke about how her website was geared towards helping Chinese students find a job in America after college.

“This was a problem you had?” T. Draper asked. Ma confirmed that she had experienced the difficulty of finding a reliable agency; she expressed an interest in aiding other international students with her product in the future.

Samu spoke of how Carl Sagan’s videos portrayed him in outer space and how many hits he had received on YouTube. On the other hand, she said, “I’m going to talk about volcanoes in my dining room, post it on YouTube, and no one’s going to watch it.”

“So Anderson Cooper doesn’t have to go to the warzone,” T. Draper concluded.

While the judges sat behind closed doors deliberating over dinner, the audience enjoyed hors d’oeuvres, music from a four-student orchestra and conversations with the presenters.   

After a half hour, the judges emerged. The audience favorite was announced as HygieniCups – Tan and Zhao received the $500 prize.

“This was really amazing,” T. Draper said.  “I love the entrepreneurial spirit that has come out of Smith. And the judges’ ruling is final.” Another surprise of the night was that, instead of only the first place winner winning a scholarship to Draper University, second and third place would as well.

Samu won the third place prize of $5000; Ma also won $5000 for second place. The grand prize went Melody Setoodehnia of Your Market Match, a real estate website that connected buyers and sellers with realtors by “personalizing the search criteria,” (ex. specifically finding an agent who spoke their chosen language).

When asked about why someone who had a Smith alumna for a wife, sister and mother would wait until now to bring the Draper Business Plan Competition to Smith, T. Draper said, “I think the timing is good. I think it had to do with me wanting to do something for Smith in my mom’s [Phyllis Culbertson Draper ’53] honor.”

He indicated that this was only the beginning for the competition at Smith. “Next year, it will get bigger and bigger,” T. Draper said. He considered including the rest of Northampton, saying it could “easily be what’s happened in Austin” – referring to South by Southwest and comparing their music scene with the entertainment provided by the Smiffenpoofs and the orchestra – with “women as the focus.”

The winners expressed their pleasure with the awards. “I am so honored,” said Ma.

Setoodehnia, who was running out the door, claimed she was “manic,” “ecstatic,” and “so blessed.” She had an internship in New York lined up for the summer: she planned to attend Draper University the following year.

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