by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson; video by Joe O'Neill
“Let’s have a guac talk!” Vaughn Gooding ’17 began, drawing surprised laughter from the audience. He’d been having that talk for some time, as he and two fellow seniors developed an idea for a startup guacamole business. Now they were down to the wire, putting their Happy Avocado ideas on the line as they competed for $4,000 in seed money. Competition was fierce, and the stakes were high.
It was the final round of the 2017 Innovation Competition at Dickinson (IC@D). Three finalist teams were competing—impressively, two sets of first-years, equally as hungry as the seniors—but ultimately, only the guac team would bring home the grand prize.
Launched by students in 2015 under guidance from two international business & management professors, IC@DC is a three-round, collegewide competition that brings student-entrepreneurs from different majors together to pursue a sustainable business idea they’re passionate about, with mentoring from experienced professionals. This year’s event was supported by Richard ’75 and Catherine Friend White ’78, along with two community sponsors, Highmark and Ahold.
Twelve teams entered the first round in January, many inspired by an October entrepreneurialism panel discussion, led by Nancy Hooff ’75, and submitted their business concepts to a panel of judges. The eight teams who advanced to the second round attended a daylong workshop with 10 alumni, parents and friends of the college—experts in startups, finance and marketing—and also had an opportunity to pair up with one dedicated mentor as they prepared and submitted more detailed proposals. As the three finalists fine-tuned their business plans during the third round, they worked closely with their mentors before submitting their final proposals in writing.
Finally, it was time for the public presentations. This year’s event was livestreamed from the Anita Tuvin Schlechter Auditorium on May 5.
First up, two teams of enterprising first-years.
Class of 2020 members (from left): Shirley Chen, Lesly Liu and Eric Palermo of team Art House.
Mentored by Nick Hunter ’98, Team Art House—Eric Palermo (undeclared), Lesly Liu (mathematics, international business & management) and Shirley Chen (undeclared)—described a web-based fine-art rental service that would connect emerging artists with potential art owners in search of an affordable, low-risk way to buy art. The three teammates presented their market research and strategies to meet known challenges. They also demonstrated a mockup website, showing how the service would work.
"We want to make it more convenient, more inviting," said Palermo. "There shouldn't be any fear when it comes to buying art."
Fellow class of 2020 members ChangSu Nam (computer science) and Bryce and Alexander Haver (both undeclared) presented their plan for OurStory, a startup idea they’d honed under mentorship of Bree Goldstein ’05. Using a brief marketing video, they described a business that would pair student-interviewers with elderly adults who wished to pass on their life stories. After several one-hour sessions, the interviewers would write up a brief biography, which would be edited, printed and bound, then sent back to the interviewee as an heirloom. Like team Art House, the OurStory team discussed market research, budget, profit margins, staffing issues, projected growth and anticipated challenges.
Class of '20 members (from left): ChangSu Nam, Alexander Haver and Bryce Haver deliver their OurStory presentation.
Gooding (international business & management) and his teammates—Stephen Hoefer (international studies, international business & management) and Rinaldys Castillo (biology), both also graduating seniors—then presented their vision of The Happy Avocado, a guacamole business that would tap new patent-pending packaging technologies and introduce new flavors and ingredients to the ready-made guacamole market. While Gooding delivered the main pitch and spoke about market demand, Hoefer presented the financials and growth projections and Castillo explained the science behind their packaging technology, via video. Their presentation concluded with a taste-test, pitting America’s most-bought guacamole against their own batch of fruit-infused dip. The team was mentored by David Carlson ’89.
The Happy Avocado's Stephen Hoefer '17 and Vaughn Gooding '17 accept the grand prize.
Audience members were invited to vote for a People’s Choice Award-winner, while faculty judges tallied the final scores. The Happy Avocado team took home both the People’s Choice Award and the first prize of $4,000. Art House was awarded second prize ($2,000) and OurStory, third ($1,000).
Asked how it felt to be part of the winning team, Hoefer smiled broadly. “It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “And it’s quite the honor to come in first place with some really strong competition like this.”
Published May 5, 2017