Finalists in the first Mark L. Morris Jr. New Venture Development competition:¢ Andrew Christopher Langford, senior in information systems, Leawood.¢ Adam Dean Hofmann, junior in marketing, Overland Park.¢ Brooks Andrew Morgan, junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Overland Park.Finalists received $2,000 each to start a business based on their research.Source: Kansas University
Some college graduates who completed their bachelor's last spring are scrambling to grab their first full-time job. But Ann Fitzgerald and Jana Silverman, who both earned bachelor's degrees in industrial design last year, have already started their own business.
Last December, the duo won the top prize of $7,200 in the first Mark L. Morris Jr. New Venture Development competition. Although the exact time frame remains undetermined, Fitzgerald and Silverman are in the process of patenting their ergonomical shower chair and hope to begin manufacturing by 2009. It makes sense that the duo's inspiration for their budding business grew straight out of the bathtub.
"Actually, I've been a big fan of the bathroom since I was a kid," Fitzgerald said. "(As far as a designer is concerned), it's one of the few places that's not saturated with chair design."
Fitzgerald and Silverman started working on their design during the fall 2007 semester. As part of their senior thesis project, the duo worked more than 500 hours to develop an effective and efficient shower chair design.
"(The design of the chair) was an interactive process from sketching to prototyping and even mapping out users' emotional connections to particular types of chairs," Silverman said.
The process of testing their product was extremely time-intensive, because designers must ensure their invention is safe and works efficiently.
Engineering associate professor Richard Hale helped Fitzgerald and Silverman run multiple stress tests, which proved the chair could sustain more than 250 pounds.
"We primarily focused the design on the needs of the users," Silverman said. "Doing extensive user research on existing shower chairs helped us to see new opportunities, which also influenced our design."
By the end of the semester, both students had produced a product and viable business plan and entered the business school's new venture development competition.
"Many of the schools here were represented," said Wallace Meyer, business school professor and director of KU's center for entrepreneurship. "(This is) evidence since the creation of the entrepreneurship (that there is) an increasing demand for students wanting to be their own bosses."
Mark L. Morris Jr. was a 1956 KU graduate and Topeka veterinarian who eventually developed Science Diet. Morris died in 2007, and KU Endowment received a fund totaling $250,000 from Morgan Creek Capital Management of Chapel Hill, N.C. Endowment will provide $10,000 of the fund annually for the competition. The award program encourages KU undergraduates from all schools and programs to create business plans and enter the competition.
A panel of professional financiers, entrepreneurs and student officers of the KU Entrepreneurship Club served the selection committee, which chose Fitzgerald and Silverman's plan from a pool of more than 80 submissions.
"Even the students who didn't take away the big prize (have) informed me that they are going off to start their own businesses," Meyer said. "(The competition) gives students a target, and then they have a business plan (that they can use) as a road map to create their business (which may eventually benefit the community)."