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Dawn Levy, News Service (650) 725-1944; e-mail:

Student entrepreneurs win big in global challenge

Student teams from the University of Sydney in Australia, the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, MIT and Stanford walked away with the top honors June 21 at the Stanford Global Entrepreneurs Challenge 2000.

"Our mission first and foremost is to enhance the scope and quality of entrepreneurship here and around the world to 'go global,' basically," said Ted Acworth, Global Challenge founder and chair. Acworth earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from Stanford this spring.

Students from 20 universities and 14 countries presented business plans to compete for $250,000 in prizes. Members of the Business Association of Stanford Engineering Students (BASES) conceived and organized the event.

"The vast majority of students [at the Global Challenge] were not born in the United States, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the [Silicon Valley] area has caught the attention of the world," said Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering. Plummer, who serves on the boards of several Silicon Valley companies, said he is often asked how to replicate the Silicon Valley's success elsewhere. "There is no simple formula," he said, "but a constant flow of good ideas, good people, capital, institutional diversity and luck" contribute. The two-way relationship between academia and industry is critical, he said, and forms the basis of a model that can be replicated around the world.

The Global Challenge's top prize, an "e-scholarship" from Hewlett-Packard's Garage Program to support early-stage companies, went to a team from the University of Sydney. Undergraduates Cyrus Shey, Ian Wijaya and Victor Leung, and graduate student Ajmal Saifudeen the oldest team member at 23 won in the category of "Internet-based Plan." Their proposed business, Sydney Worldwide Pty. Ltd., aims to produce and deliver online city guides and portals targeting tourists to large cities in Southeast Asia and Australia. A city guide/portal they created for their hometown is called "Sydney on the Web" (motto: "We'll tell you where to go!").

Presented by HP's Lang-Anh Pham and Adrian Ott, the e-scholarship consists of a bundle of products (hardware, software, business tools) and services (support, consulting, training) from HP, Gartner, Microsoft, Red Hat and WebGain valued at about $150,000.

HP's sponsorship reflects its strong ongoing and historical role in the success of both the Silicon Valley and Stanford. When HP founders William Hewlett and David Packard were graduate students in engineering at Stanford, their mentor was former Dean and Provost Fredrick Terman. Packard later credited Terman, more than any other individual, with the formation of Silicon Valley's technological base.

"Terman encouraged them to follow their visions and dreams and start their own company" in Packard's garage in 1939, Ott said. "And this was during the Depression." With e-scholarships, she said, HP's Garage Program encourages students similarly.

The Australian students already had won one free year of space in Australian Technology Park, a technology incubator that provides structure and services to nurture fledgling businesses the first few years. "The [Global Challenge] prize is going to make a big difference to their business," said Stan Jeffery of Australian Technology Park.

"The marriage of academic and business environments is very important to entrepreneurship wherever you look," said Joel Friedman of Andersen Consulting, which sponsored $20,000 prizes for each winning team in the remaining four judging categories.

Winners in the category of "Disruptive Technologies" innovative products that define a significant new market or transform an existing one were Stanford's Farid Nemati, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, and Homan Igehy, a doctoral student in computer science. Their team plans to develop, market and license T-RAM, a unique proprietary memory that has the potential to revolutionize the semiconductor industry by providing the memory density of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and the speed of static random access memory (SRAM). The T-RAM team also won in the category of "Elegance of Business Strategy," in which students demonstrate a compelling solution to a tangible market need.

Winning in the category of "Positive Social Impact" creating a business that would affect the environment positively, promote peace, ameliorate poverty or alleviate social injustice was the University of Buenos Aires' team. Their business plan created an Internet site to bring original art from Latin America to the world. Team members Marina Kessler, Hernan Fligler and Georgette Montalvan accepted their award in bright orange soccer shirts emblazoned with their company's logo.

In the category of "Global Market Potential" the business plan best suited to global markets the winning team was MIT's Kiril Alexandrov and Zoran Zdraveski. Their plan is to create a business called EyeGen to produce a dye that makes DNA visible to the naked eye. The dye is safer, cheaper and faster than the radioactive and fluorescent probes used in genomic, medical and biotechnological research. The team estimates a $15 billion global market.

Other teams had impressive ideas too (see for a complete list). Many dealt with health care, Internet services and wireless products. A Princeton team proposed a way for businesses involved in the apparel industry to share information online. A University of Virginia team proposed a device to prevent the blood-vessel collapse that may occur after a balloon angioplasty. A team from Hautes Etudes Commerciales in France planned to create a soda can that can fit in a pocket and cool a beverage in less than two minutes.

The Global Challenge differed from other business plan competitions in that it emphasized educational workshops with Silicon Valley executives. Topics included negotiating a term sheet, protecting intellectual property, being a founder, creating a winning team, smart marketing and going global. Students participated in e-clinics with lawyers, venture capitalists and marketing consultants. But one of the most valuable activities, Plummer said, was surely the networking that occurred between students, faculty and industry representatives.

In addition to prize sponsors HP and Andersen, conference sponsors included IBM; Accel Partners; Mohr, Davidow Ventures; netQbate; and Silicon Valley Bank. Event sponsors included BA Venture Partners, Network Appliance and Wingspring. Production partners were ONI Systems, OSINTERNET and Voce Communications. Executives at 25 companies volunteered their time for judging.

BASES's Stanford partners were the School of Engineering, the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, the Entrepreneurship Task Force, the Graduate School of Business Venture Capital Club, the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the Asia/Pacific Research Center and the Office of Technology Licensing.


By Dawn Levy

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