New Venture Challenge sets young entrepreneurs on the path to success.



2005 undergraduate winner Mike Anestor of Infinity Dance Project with 2006 undergraduate winners, Phoenix Tutoring and Mentoring’s team members William Hatcher, Mike Sylvestre, Steven Benyard; 2005 graduate winner Hein Nguyen of Intelligent Math, Starex Smith of Phoenix Tutoring and Mentoring; Alan L. Carsrud, executive director of the Euegenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center; and Gerald Nievas-Caro of Phoenix Tutoring and Mentoring


2005 undergraduate winner Mike Anestor of Infinity Dance Project; 2005 graduate winner, Hein Nguyen of Intelligent Math; 2006 graduate winner Alexis Nogueras of G-Force Tools, and Alan L. Carsrud, executive director of the Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center

What might have seemed like the longest fifteen-minute period of their lives also was one of the most significant for the student entrepreneurs who presented their business plans to the panel of distinguished judges assembled for the 2006 Howard J. Leonhardt New Venture Challenge Business Plan Competition.

Participants had been preparing and polishing their plans for several months leading up to the actual events. The Semi-Final Round of presentations was held on May 5, 2006, at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, with nearly 150 team members, judges, and supporters attending. The judges then whittled the candidates down to the final five teams—both graduate and undergraduate—who presented at the Final Oral Presentation Round on May 16, 2006, also at Modesto A. Maidique Campus. Close to fifty attendees were there to cheer them on.

Students rise to the competitive challenge.

Hosted by the Eugenio Pino and Family Global Entrepreneurship Center, the annual New Venture Challenge Business Plan Competition is open to all upper-division undergraduate and graduate students who currently are enrolled or who recently graduated. Their business ideas must be for an original seed-funded, start-up venture. The top four winning teams receive cash and in-kind contributions to help them fund their new businesses.

To help students prepare for the New Venture Challenge, the college, in conjunction with the Pino Center, offers entrepreneurship classes and a series of free workshops that run in tandem with the competition. Students learn how to pitch an idea, uncover market niches, write business plans, and present them convincingly.

Along the way, the young entrepreneurs get a feel for the demanding, competitive environment they are preparing to enter.

“I’ve been wearing red boots for over a decade at business plan competitions like this as a reminder to students that it can get bloody in the real world,” said Alan L. Carsrud, executive director of the Pino Center. “But I do try to have a little fun with them along the way.”

Clearly, the participating students were up for the challenge.

“This is the third year in a row that I’ve been a New Venture Challenge judge,” said Noel J. Guillama, president and chief executive officer of The Quantum Group, Inc., a South Florida-based business that delivers health care solutions. “Each year, the quality and level of professionalism gets better and better. It’s really a positive reflection of the quality of the program and the skills and maturity of the staff and administrators who prepare these students.”

Innovative, diverse business plans take home the top prizes.

The New Venture Challenge winners were announced at the 2006 Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Luncheon, held on May 17 at Parrot Jungle in Miami.

G-Force Tools, which brings an original ergonomic design to lawn and garden tools, won at the graduate level.

“Conceiving G-Force Tools was truly an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me,” said Alexis Nogueras (MBA ’06), who was a powerful team of one at the competition. “Throughout my graduate program, I’ve remained committed to becoming an entrepreneur. This whole experience—developing my business plan and pitching my idea to judges with such impressive credentials—has given me the self-confidence to achieve my goals.”

Phoenix Mentoring won the undergraduate competition with a business plan for creating a non-profit company focused on mentoring inner-city children in the arts as well as in academics. This team consisted of four undergraduate students and team leader Starex Smith (BS ’05), now a student in the university’s Master of Public Administration program.

“The concept behind Phoenix Mentoring started a year or two ago as a community service project,” Smith said. “But we saw this business plan competition as an opportunity to grow our efforts into a sustainable non-profit organization, serving children who might otherwise not get the chance to learn more about art, theater, and music, not to mention receive extra tutoring support for their regular school work.”

Both Nogueras and Smith are grateful for the guidance and encouragement they received from the Pino Center’s staff supporting the New Venture Challenge.

“Everyone at the Pino Center was always there for us, mentoring and motivating us every step of the way,” Smith said. “They even helped us tap into college resources that we did not know were available.”

Nogueras is equally appreciative.

“Dr. Carsrud kept telling me to move ahead and to believe in my project because it ‘had some legs on it,’” he said. “I don’t think I could have done it without the skills I acquired in my MBA program and the tremendous support from the Pino Center team.”

For more information on the 2006 Howard J. Leonhardt New Venture Challenge Business Plan Competition, visit nvc.fiu.edu or call 305-348-7156.

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