A team of young entrepreneurs at Fayetteville State University (FSU) developed a business plan for a thermoelectric device that can charge cell phones, and it captured first place in the annual Opportunity Funding Corporation’s Venture Challenge in Atlanta, Ga.
The FSU team of four students won first place overall and first place for the business plan. Florida A&M University took first place for outstanding presentation and second place overall. Fayetteville’s winning students were James Hemstock, Ben Lanier, Tye Owens, and Tashia Parker. The adviser was Dr. Boris Abbey.
FAMU’s team was made up of Antoinyce Eaton, Benjamin Evans III, Omitope Taylor, and Scarlett Williams. Team adviser was Dr. Jennifer Collins.
Third place in the overall competition went to Tennessee State University. Twenty-three teams from historically Black colleges and universities competed. Winners were awarded trophies and cash prizes up to the $15,000 grand prize. Sponsors and judges were from major corporations. Diverse: Issues In Higher Education magazine also was an event sponsor.
The Fayetteville State team’s business plan was for a thermoelectric device invented by Dr. Daryush Ila, associate vice chancellor for research. The device attaches to cell phones and, according to the team’s description, generates electricity from heat. The heat from one’s hand is sufficient to produce electricity. The device attaches to the back of the phone, and, when the person holds the phone, it immediately charges the phone.
Team leader Tye Owens credits associate vice chancellor Daryush Ila with the basis of the invention. “The thermoelectric material was invented by Dr. Ila and is pending a patent filed by Fayetteville State University. My team and I worked with Dr. Ila to discover a way to market the material in a way that would be useful to consumers. It was while we were working with Dr. Ila that the team chose to pursue the possibility of using the material to charge and power a cell phone,” Owens explained.
“We have a formal academic program that emphasizes entrepreneurship, and we set very high standards for our teams,” says Fayetteville State Chancellor Dr. James Anderson, explaining the school’s winning record. Anderson, who attended the competition, called it “a really outstanding opportunity for students to compete in the public domain against top students from other institutions.” It was Fayetteville State’s fifth first-place win in eight years.
Team adviser Dr. Boris Abbey, who is just completing his first year at Fayetteville State, says taking on the role of adviser of a program that had a reputation for winning national competitions was daunting. “It was a steep learning curve for me, and at times it was painful and stressful. It was also very stressful for the students—the time commitments, meeting three times a week.”
Abbey said that, in the final weeks before the competition, the students “were probably putting in 60 hours a week on the final project.”
But team leader Tye Owens, a first-year MBA student with a concentration in finance, says, “Just the experience alone has been worth everything—learning how to do all the market research, how to write it up and present it to investors, then negotiating with the investors—I would do it all over again.”
Owens and his teammates are in the process of incorporating, with plans to actually take the product to market. He says that, after the competition, three companies approached him with an interest in either investment or collaboration.
Dr. Mohammad Bhuyian, an Endowed Professor of Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Fayetteville State, is national director of the OFC Venture Challenge program, which this year is changing its name to OFC Innovation & Entrepreneurship.
OFC is a not-for-profit corporation founded in 1970 to facilitate the ownership of for-profit business entities by minorities and other disadvantaged persons through provision of investment capital. Through the use of guarantees, direct loans and equity investments, it has generated in excess of $66 million in capital for more than 184 minority-owned companies in 35 states. Through equity investments in financial intermediaries such as OFC Inc., Syndicated Communications Inc., and S&L Acquisition Company Inc., OFC has generated another $200 million in financing from banks, insurance companies, venture capital companies and others for literally hundreds of additional small business concerns.
Editor’s Note: Diverse magazine president and CEO William E. Cox serves on the OFC board of governors.