Hundreds of eager college students armed with imaginative ideas like a plate that weighs food portions and a restaurant inventory anti-theft device crammed into the corridors of The University of Texas-Pan American's College of Business Administration Nov. 16.
The students were members of more than 30 University teams participating in the Great BizIdea Showdown, an annual contest to promote leadership, entrepreneurship and inventive ideas.
The competition requires each team to formulate a viable business venture and then market the products to the University community. Displays were set up throughout the halls for students to view the final product.
Norman Jeffries, a senior international business degree major, and his team devised a business plan to build a climate control trailer, equipped with an oversized cooling fan to help oilfield and farm workers battle the heat.
"It is not as cold as an air conditioned unit so you don't run the risk of getting a cold and you are not susceptible to extreme weather changes and so the worker can get back to the job safely after stepping into this trailer," Jeffries said. "We are trying to pursue this to make the workers more productive and avoid getting heat stroke."
Jeffries said the business idea face-off was a great trial run for a real-world corporate pitch.
"We get exposed to how we need to present our plan and how we need to present ourselves. We also get an idea of what we really want to pursue," Jeffries said. "I am hoping we can actually make a future business out of this and make it a profitable business."
Dr. John Sargent, UTPA professor of management, helped to organize the showdown. Sargent said the experience is stimulating for students because they learn how to channel their interests into profitable ventures.
"You get immediate results because it is embedded in them what it takes to be successful. Five years down the road they can start their own business and they remember it began in a class at UTPA," Sargent said.
Susana Gonzalez's team created a comprehensive plan for an electric auto windshield visor. The UTPA junior insists her product is superior to the regular fold-out car visor.
"It retracts up and down by itself with a push of a button and essentially what our product offers is convenience. It is effortless pretty much," Gonzalez said. "In seconds it will automatically go up and provide complete heat coverage on the front windshield."
UTPA junior, Hiteshu Bhakta, and his five-person team also took the challenge seriously. They peddled a prevention device that they hope will someday save a baby's life. It is a universal belt buckle that attaches to a child car seat with a Bluetooth-enabled chip inside.
"There will be an app on smart phones for it or you can have the keychain. As soon as you buckle it in, it is activated and a signal link is established," Bhakta said. "If you walk more than 15 feet away and leave the child buckled in, the signal is broken and an alarm is set off reminding you that you left your baby in the car."
One of Bhakta's group members is pregnant and he said that served as the inspiration behind the baby safety buckle.
"This is a problem that needs to be solved. The temperature in a car goes from 80 degrees to 120 degrees within 20 minutes," Bhakta said. "We found over 200 documented cases of it occurring. So this is our chance to address the problem with our plan because a child's life is priceless."
Bhakta said he appreciated the opportunity to collectively design a business plan because he was able to apply what he has learned as a student on a business track.
"This is what it is like in the real world. You have to create a product and then market it," he said.
A panel of outside judges with entrepreneurial experience determined the contest finalists. Ballots were also available to students who wanted to vote for their favorite display. Students selected the Student Choice Award and the competing teams selected the winner of the Peer Award.
The six top vote-getters then had 10 minutes to present their ideas to an auditorium of spectators and the judges. Following the presentations, audience members had the opportunity to scream for their favorite team for 10 seconds. The judges then determined a Scream Award recipient based on the volume of approval from the audience. The panel also selected the top three winners eligible for more than $3,000 awarded in cash prizes.
"This was just a great chance to show that we can build a real business and promote it. We get to take our ideas to the next level," Jeffries said.
Winners of the BizIdea Showdown for 2011 are:
First Place: P&S Recycled Auto Bumpers $1,500
Second Place: Aba's Helpers $500
Third Place: E-Biss $250
Student Choice Award: The Leaf Munchers
Peer Award: E-Biss
Scream Award: E-Biss