IU announces world's largest student prize for software, technology business plan

September 19th, 2011
A group of investors has created a $1.1 million fund to support $250,000 in annual prize money to Indiana University Bloomington students who submit the best business plans for a student-led company focused on Internet and software technology.

The annual prizes for BEST -- Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology -- will be the largest in the world offered by a university solely to its students in a business plan competition.

The BEST competition will be managed by the IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing and the Kelley School of Business and will be held in three phases over the course of two semesters each year. This year, concepts will be submitted by Nov. 15, initial business plans and presentations of selected teams will be completed by Feb. 3, 2012, and selected finalists will deliver a final plan and a public presentation by mid-April 2012. The first-place winner will be guaranteed at least $100,000 to invest in their company, with the remaining prize money distributed among selected finalists.

Indiana University President Michael McRobbie said the competition would empower the intellectual resources represented in IU's diverse student body, while also strengthening opportunities for innovation and collaboration beyond the university's confines.

"Our students will leave IU more prepared to be competitive at every level because of the opportunity BEST will provide to be intellectually creative on a unique stage, supported by outstanding faculty and mentors who can provide the assistance required to bring new innovations and ideas to fruition," McRobbie said.

The contest is open to all IU Bloomington seniors, and graduate students and two-person student teams will be permitted.

Funded by a group of 10 individual investors, with an additional $100,000 from IU's Research and Technology Corp., BEST came to fruition through conversations between School of Informatics and Computing Dean Bobby Schnabel and three IU alumni who are now chief executive officers of their own companies: Matt Ferguson (CareerBuilder), Scott Dorsey (ExactTarget) and Mary Delaney (Luceo Solutions LLC). The investment group includes six other corporate CEOs and alumni.

Ferguson, head of CareerBuilder.com, the largest online job site in the U.S., said the group of investors wanted to help create a competition rooted in technology that also stimulated creativity, offered opportunities for jobs creation and highlighted the quality of work going on at IU Bloomington.

"As the United States faces the highest unemployment rates in decades, we need to do all we can as a country to encourage entrepreneurs to create jobs and opportunities for all Americans," Ferguson said. "We believe this contest is an important step in unleashing the creative talents of IU students to create those opportunities in Indiana and beyond."

Both the School of Informatics and Computing and Kelley could also benefit financially if the new businesses succeed as IU will receive an initial 10 percent equity stake in each winning company, with any returns on investment going back to the two schools.

"BEST will benefit Indiana University and the community in three important ways," Schnabel said. "It will attract even more excellent students to Informatics and Computing, the Kelley School and IU Bloomington in general, it will enrich the entrepreneurial and business community in Bloomington and beyond, and ultimately, it will provide funding that will benefit future generations of IU students. We fully expect this to become a model of successful alumni co-venturing with IU that will grow in the future"

ExactTarget CEO and BEST investor Scott Dorsey agreed.

"As an Indiana University graduate and local software entrepreneur, I am thrilled to have been involved in the formation of BEST. I am optimistic that pairing talented student entrepreneurs with seed capital and business mentorship will lead to entrepreneurial success," he said.

Kelley School of Business Dean Dan Smith said he expected the competition to provide the impetus for new talents to rise from the IU student body.

"We are deeply grateful to those who provided the support to make BEST happen and we fully expect this competition to be the premiere one of its kind in the nation," he said. "IU has an extraordinary reservoir of student talent and the BEST contest will provide the motivation to focus these incredible minds on exciting innovations that have the potential to advance society and in the process, further distinguish Indiana University as a significant entrepreneurial force. It is an honor for the Kelley School to partner with the School of Informatics and Computing to be part of this exciting new venture in education."

Delaney described the contest as a unique student opportunity that could set the stage for a successful career and, in a broader sense, for how businesses succeed.

"As an alumnus, it has been extremely rewarding to help bring BEST to Indiana University and highlight the potential of tomorrow's technology leaders," she said. "Technology expertise is one of the most critical and sought-after skills around the globe. The collaboration of the students, business executives and the university not only creates a unique experiential learning opportunity, it enables students to bring exciting new ideas to market and make their mark."

In addition to Matt Ferguson (B.A., Political Science, 1989), Dorsey (B.S., Business, 1989) and Delaney (B.S., Marketing, 1986), the seven other individual BEST investors are Chris Baggott, Compendium Software chairman and ExactTarget co-founder; Cheng Wu, serial entrepreneur and chairman of Azuki Systems (M.S., Computer Science, 1977); Scott Etzler, CEO of Intercall (B.S., Business, 1975); David Ferguson, partner at Ferguson and Ferguson (B.S. Business, 1978; J.D., 1981); Steve Ferguson, chairman of the Cook Group (J.D., 1966); Mat Orrego, CEO of Cornerstone Information Systems (B.S., Business, 1985); and Eric Taylor, CEO of Taylor Building Corp. (B.S., Business, 1987).

BEST winners will be selected by the investment team.

Provided by Indiana University

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