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Idea Machine

The University of Louisville MBA Entrepreneurship program is developing the next generation of entrepreneurs by delivering a solid MBA education that focuses on the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to launch new ventures. The companies coming out of the program, though diverse in their products and services, share one important element: The students’ passion to make a difference.

By Ron Cooper

NanoMark Therapeutics, a start-up business created by students in the University of Louisville Entrepreneurship MBA program, has caused quite a buzz in academia and the media. It has won many significant awards at national and international business plan competitions against other MBA programs. The NYTimes.com, Forbes.com and Entrepreneur.com all have given it some positive ink.

NanoMark recently finished eighth in the world at the 2010 Global Moot Corp Competition, the Super Bowl of business plan competitions. Before that, it took first place in the life-sciences category (and $20,000 in cash awards) during the McGinnis Venture Competition, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University. The competition featured top-flight MBA teams from around the nation and was judged by major investors.

One of the judges told the NanoMark students: “Now hurry up and get to market.”

feature-Cover-art.png Nurtured by faculty at the College of Business—in particular the expertise and insight of their coaches and mentors Cobb Family Professor of Entrepreneurship Van Clouse and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Suzanne Bergmeister—NanoMark is trying to do just that. MBA students Dr. Sham Kakar, David Noack, Viji Sundar, Dr. Gary Degen and Cohin Kakar (son of Dr. Kakar) have developed AUra, a patented drug that decreases the amount of chemotherapy needed to treat ovarian cancer.

“AUra has become a part of each of our lives and none of us want to stop until we take AUra to market,” says Noack, the group’s spokesman. “All members of our team have either a personal tie-in to the fight against cancer and/or personal work experience within the medical or pharmaceutical industry. We want to help those patients suffering from cancer and (increase) their current chemotherapy options.

“Our confidence stems from the promising results of Dr. Kakar’s lab studies,” Noack adds. “We are trying to introduce a new cancer drug into the market with the potential to completely change the way cancer patients undergo treatment. Imagine, chemotherapy without those harsh side effects. AUra could literally save millions of lives.”

Noack and his student colleagues spend more than 20 hours a week developing NanoMark and AUra—over and above their MBA coursework and regular full-time jobs.

Striving for excellence and dedication to the task are hallmarks of the entrepreneurship programs in the College of Business. The Princeton Review ranks UofL’s MBA Entrepreneurship program 16th nationally. Entrepreneur Magazine ranks the program 7th among public universities with entrepreneurship programs. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program 15th nationally (9th among public universities). And the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship named UofL’s Entrepreneurship PhD a 2010 National Model PhD Entrepreneurship Program.

Develop, pitch and compete

The UofL MBA Entrepreneurship program focuses on developing the next generation of entrepreneurs, says professor Van G. H. Clouse, Cobb Family Professor of Entrepreneurship.

 

“We do this by delivering a solid MBA education that focuses on the entrepreneurial knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully launch new ventures in a variety of settings including independent new ventures, corporations, government and not-for-profit organizations.”

Clouse explains the unique attributes of the program.

“While we address theoretical foundations of business and entrepreneurship, what sets us apart is the applied knowledge, skills and abilities our students are exposed to,” he says. “Our students develop business plans for actual ventures, pitch those business plans to investors, and compete against other MBA programs in national and international business plan competitions. Our teams have won over $300,000 the past three years toward the launch of their ventures.”

Righteous Endeavors

Entrepreneurship MBA ventures at UofL, though diverse in products or services, share one important element: The students’ passion to make a difference. That definitely underscores the motive and modus operandi of necoPlastics.

“We aim to provide a recycled plastic resin that utilizes the millions of tons of waste plastic that is filling up our nation’s landfills,” says Steve Flaherty, necoPlastics’ president and CEO. “This will be done by utilizing our patented process and bringing a lower-cost 100 percent recycled resin to the plastic product manufacturers.”

The technology enables necoPlastics to recycle unsorted mixed-plastics that currently have little or no value and are being disposed of in landfills.

“Compared to other resins, this material will be less expensive, comparable in performance, and environmentally friendly,” Flaherty continues. “This product, named necoResin, allows plastic product manufacturers to protect the environment and reduce their raw material costs by reducing their dependency on expensive virgin resins.”

Flaherty says sustainability is no longer just a choice; it is a way of life. “It is our mission and goal to provide a more cost-effective, environmentally friendly plastic resin that provides benefits at all levels of the value chain.”

Flaherty developed necoPlastics with fellow MBA students Charles Price, Jason Wade, Nick Jacoby and Whitney Austin. They all worked under the tutelage of Clouse, Bergmeister and the faculty at the College of Business.

“We owe a lot to the University of Louisville,” Flaherty said. “They not only gave us the opportunity to present our business plan in a real-world environment through the competitions, but also gave us the knowledge and entrepreneurial mechanisms to take this from ‘a school project’ to a real-life business. I may be the head of the company, but we did not get where we are today, nor would be here, without these two things.”

Nuts and BoltsK

Sean O’Leary co-founded a successful business, Genscape, with the help of the program. Genscape provides data on capacities, flow and utilization for all major energy commodities. Its products include the “well-known, real-time services for power and gas in North America and Europe,” according to its website. “Genscape also delivers fundamentals-based market intelligence services which market participants rely upon to better understand drivers, risks, and dynamics of regional power and gas markets.”

feature-idea_machine.jpg“The [MBA] program provided me the opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts of raising capital and constructing a business plan,” O’Leary says. “I also met a number of people, both in the university as well as the community, through my association with the program who would later serve as advisers, investors and board members."

Abby Lovan and Daniel Johnsen also credit the College of Business and the Entrepreneurship MBA faculty for their success in getting Tetra One Source poised for the marketplace. The start-up provides a patented technology, Tritetra, a low-cost, environmentally friendly and effective way to reduce toxicity in soil and water. It helps turn sites deemed as “unsafe” for redevelopment into places where parks, sport complexes and businesses can be built.

According to Johnsen, “There are more than 5 million acres in the U.S. known to contain some type of contamination. The sites have such contaminants as lead, arsenic, copper and cadmium. Seventy-three percent of that can be remedied or cleaned-up with the technology that is currently available.”

He’s hopeful that Tritetra can be the solution to the problem—provided it can move to the commercial phase.

The Entrepreneurship MBA program prepared them well to complete several essential tasks and explore their new venture opportunity, Lovan says.

“We were able to identify the size of the market, the benefits of our solution compared to other technologies in the industry, and speak with industry experts to confirm its viability,” Lovan says.

According to Lovan, the entrepreneurship program prepares its students by:

  • Teaching them what makes a new business opportunity attractive to a potential investor.
  • Showing them how to write a good business plan.
  • Having them fine-tune not only presentation skills, but also Q&A skills with investors and entrepreneurs.
  • Giving them access to the best resource available to students—experienced professors passionate about not only entrepreneurship, but also about their students.

Looking ahead

Twenty-eight students are enrolled in the 2010–11 Entrepreneurship MBA class. Since its inception 17 years ago, more than 500 students have gone through the program. Clouse estimates that approximately 15 percent of the students have been part of a business start-up or franchise business using skills and knowledge gleaned from the program.

With the recently established Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship (made possible by a generous alumni gift from Corbin-based entrepreneurs Marion and Terry Forcht), the addition of Cardinal Venture Fund II and the expanded mission of the original Cardinal Venture Fund, the success of the Brown-Forman Cardinal Challenge, and the program’s growing success on the Moot Corp circuit—the program has a strong future at UofL, Clouse says.

“Our faculty enjoys working with students and helping them to realize their dreams.”

Applicants submit their undergraduate transcripts, their GMAT scores, a resume, a statement indicating why they want to pursue an Entrepreneurship MBA, and two letters of recommendation. The College of Business conducts interviews with each qualified candidate to determine their fit with the cohort-based Entrepreneurship MBA program.

For more information about the Entrepreneurship MBA, contact Paula Sacher at 502.852.3969 or paula.sacher@louisville.edu or visit the web at business.louisville.edu/mba.

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