Student Entrepreneurs Gain Planning Experience (and Seed Money) in Cornell Competition

May 20, 2014

Contact:  Kristen Ciferri, 607.255.0179,

Student Entrepreneurs Gain Planning Experience (and Seed Money) in Cornell Competition

Ithaca, NY, May 20, 2014 – Summer 2014 will be a busy time for Harsha Chanrai (MMH '14) and Felix Tabary '14, as they finalize their business plan to create an enterprise that is aimed at fulfilling two critical needs in developing economies: on the one hand, job opportunities for underprivileged youth who otherwise would go into the sex and drug trade and, on the other hand, local and well trained employees for expanding hotel chains in emerging tourist markets. Chanrai and Tabary's concept, called Saira, is the winner of the fifth annual Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition. Hosted by the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, the competition attracted over 30 student teams who developed entrepreneurial concepts in the hospitality industry. Based on the decision of the competition's judges, Team Saira wins $15,000 to use as seed money for their venture.

Second place and a $5,000 prize went to Hummus Holdings, a business aimed at distributing high quality hummus, which partners Chris Kirby '14 and Salim Bure '15 have already launched. Triplanner, which will be an information hub for travelers to Korea's Jeju Island, won third prize of $2,500.

"This competition focuses on one of the essential elements of starting a business—creating a solid business plan," said Senior Lecturer Susan Fleming, who chaired the competition. "The entrepreneurship faculty at SHA and judges work with the student teams to help them as they work through their plans. The prize money is important, but the real key is understanding how to build the business." Fleming expressed her appreciation to the sponsors who make the competition possible: the Sun Family, Steve Thomson, Marriott, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, and Avendra.

Chanrai, who has just completed the Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) program at the School of Hotel Administration, points out that the innovative step for Saira is that this will be a self-sustaining, not-for-profit business. "We know that other charities perform this important function of training local residents to work in international chain hotels," she said. "But the charity business model involves continual cash infusions. Instead, we want to make this a self-sustaining training program. Once the initial investment of $265,000 is made, various revenue drivers will keep it going." Tabary, who has just completed his B.S. degree in Hotel Administration, recalled working for such a charity in Cambodia, called EGBOK (Everything's Going to Be OK). He explained: "This concept can be replicated in many places. We looked at Sri Lanka as a starting point for Saira, because both hotel firms and NGOs there have expressed serious interest in a training program of this type."

For Kirby and Bure, Hummus Holdings represents a combination of their interest in food and business. "I definitely planned to start a business, and my concept is to have as pure and excellent a product as possible," said Kirby. "I believe if people try this recipe they will taste the difference, because the difference is definitely there." The product is currently distributed in more than a dozen stores in the Finger Lakes, but it started with the region's wineries, which were interested in a high quality local product.

The key element for Triplanner is to introduce more flexibility in arrangements for travelers to Jeju, a destination that attracts some five million arrivals per year (more than Guam or Hawaii). Team members noted that fixed packages dominate travel to the island, but travelers are sometimes disappointed because they are more interested in some elements of the fixed package than in others. By organizing the travel information about Jeju and by developing a method to allow custom trip planning, the team hopes to move beyond the current disorganized information presented about the island. Team members are Jiha Jung (MMH '14), Ha Lim Lee '14, Darren Oh (MMH '14), and Oliver Yuan (MMH '14).

About the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan
The purpose of the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition is to provide an experiential learning opportunity to rising entrepreneurs to assist them in developing a professional business plan in the hospitality industry. The process includes classroom education, including a course on developing business plans, and also involves direct interaction with experienced entrepreneurs and venture capital and equity investors. To view this year's Hospitality Business Plan Competition video, click here.

About The Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship
Founded in 2006 with a generous gift from Leland Pillsbury '69 and his wife, Mary Pillsbury, the Pillsbury Institute provides support for seasoned faculty and proven entrepreneurs to help students envision their dreams, engage with others, and execute with excellence. The institute guides students in the study of entrepreneurship and innovation, connects them with successful hospitality entrepreneurs and innovators, and gives them practical experience to help them link classroom theory to real-world practice. The Pillsbury Institute is also a source of information about forming new hospitality businesses, managing small and family-run businesses, franchising, corporate venturing, new venture funding, and innovation.