Student entrepreneurs go head-to-head in business plan competition

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Martin Andonov '13 won the competition and the $15,000 first-place cash prize for his concept, Agora Hellenic Grill, a chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants that will be based in London.

Target market identified? Check. Competition researched? Check. Financials planned, location selected, advisory board recruited? Check, check, and check.

There is a lot more to being an entrepreneur than coming up with a great business idea. No one knows this better than the students who participated in the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition, presented by the Leland C. and Mary M. Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the School of Hotel Administration. The competition began in November with 30 student teams submitting executive summaries; five finalist teams competed in the final round of the competition on April 6 during the 88th Annual Hotel Ezra Cornell.

"All of the concepts in the final round were outstanding. They were unique and filled a clear void in the market, and each has the potential to succeed in the real world," said Neil Tarallo, PIHE academic director. "A good idea isn't enough to attract investors, though, and the teams that really stood out were the ones that had fully rounded business plans and were ready to bring their concepts to life."

Martin Andonov '13 won the competition and the $15,000 first-place cash prize for his concept, Agora Hellenic Grill, a chain of Mediterranean fast-casual restaurants that will be based in London. Passionate about his nascent business and spurred by his win, Andonov will return to the United Kingdom after graduation to test his concept in a real-life setting and continue on his path to become an entrepreneur.

Andonov got the idea for Agora while he was studying abroad at the London School of Economics and was unsatisfied with his dining options. Citing the growth in interest in Mediterranean food, the rise in healthy eating, and the lack of restaurants filling this niche, he explained "there is a tremendous opportunity that, interestingly enough, nobody is capitalizing on."

That eye for unrealized opportunities was common among all the finalist teams. Runner-up Voilà Mobile Crêperie—a food truck concept by Michael Perlman '13, Ethan Joseph '13, & Tareq Ali '13—took home the $5,000 second-place prize. Third place and $2,500 went to Spencer Stein '13, who developed the Solace, an in-room pain-relief product. The Stein Family Prize of $5,000 went to Robert Frisch MBA '13 and Tara Lobo '15, for a mobile, luxury eco-tent business, Cairn Tented Resorts. SakuraTerra Hospitality team of Satoko Nagahara MMH '13, Christopher O'Donnell '13, Zhuodan Huang MMH '13, and Blake Golom MMH '13, earned honorable mention for their a Japanese-style inn and spa. 

"The students put a tremendous amount of work into the competition, and I love to watch the business plans develop over the course of the academic year. It is even more impressive to see how much the students grow throughout the competition. Everything from their confidence levels to their critical thinking skills to their time management skills grows," said Susan Fleming, senior lecturer in management and organizational behavior, who co-chairs the competition with Tarallo.

The teams pitched their business concepts to judges Chris Hemmeter, Thayer Ventures; Bill Minnock '79, Marriott International; Sandy Solomon, Sweet Street Desserts; and Jacob Wright, High Peaks Hospitality. Judges for the semi-final round were Moby Ahmed; Nick Bayer, Saxbys Coffee; Kenny Blatt '81, Caribbean Property Group; Larry Hall, PAR Springer-Miller; Ken Hamlet '66, Crestview Partners; Chris Hunsberger '81, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts; Warren Leeds '84, Dartcor Management Services; and Mark Lomanno.

Sponsors for the 2013 competition were Marriott International, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the Sun family, and the Stein Family. 

To learn more about the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition, visit the competition web page.

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