Two student peeking out the door of an elevator

Business Plan Competitions Inspire Innovation

Travis Beaulieu and Joel Florek

A single great idea lit the fire of enthusiasm in Travis Beaulieu and Joel Florek—and, with the help of the Bob Mark Memorial Elevator Pitch Competition, earned them $1,000 in cash.

Beaulieu and Florek were the first-place winners in the 2011 competition that commemorates the late professor Bob Mark, topping the other entrants with their innovative AsfalisMed business idea. Using a secure online database and mobile application, AsfalisMed would provide access to medical information via QR codes on drivers licenses and student IDs.

“The idea started with QR codes on medical jewelry,” Florek said, “and we realized that student IDs and drivers licenses would be a bigger market. We’ve been working on it almost every night for a long time.”

During the elevator pitch competition, which was founded in 2007 by Mark, participating students had three minutes—about the length of an elevator ride—to sell a new business idea to a panel of judges. The pitches were as wide-ranging as they were clever.

A textbook rental operation, Picket Books, took second place and a $500 prize. Its creator, David Shull, designed the business with a significant advantage over similar current operations. “It’s peer to peer,” he said, “students working directly with other students. Using a QR code [scanned by their cell phones], they can make a connection in thirty seconds to a minute.”

"Bob Mark inspired students to pursue their dreams. With the Bob Mark Memorial Elevator Pitch Competition and the New Venture Competition, we are giving them the opportunity."Dean Darrell Radson

Shull said his business would profit by getting a service fee, similar to eBay and PayPal. He said students would also be able to recover all their costs. (See sidebar.)

SafePlug, the brainchild of biomedical engineering student Anne Dancy and mechanical engineering student Brett Jenkins, took third place. Mounted on a simple bracelet, SafePlug would automatically turn off heat-producing appliances—like hair dryers, electric
blankets, and portable heaters—if the wearer moved more than fifty yards away.

By their calculations, Dancy and Jenkins could sell the item and show a 40 percent return on each sale.

Seventeen teams participated in the competition. Other elevator pitches focused on web-based news-gathering applications, better bicycle tires for Africa (see right), healthier bakeries, Chinese language coaches, and services for visiting the elderly with a cup of coffee.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.