April 21, 2012

Online Retailer Focusing on People with Disabilities Wins Values and Ventures Competition

University of Houston Bauer College of Business wins first place and $15,000.

Houston teamThe third time was the charm for the student team from the University of Houston Bauer College of Business. They made it through three different panels of judges to win first prize and $15,000 in the Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition, April 19-20, hosted by the Neeley School of Business at TCU. Twenty-two teams from around the world competed. 

The Houston team of Justin Farley, Randy Hannemann, Louis McEneny, Tattiana Reznick and Adam Trojanowski, all students in the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, impressed the judges with their concept, presentation and business plan for UNlimiters, an online retailer for products and services for people with disabilities. The brainchild of Justin, who has cerebral palsy, the business plan is aimed at the one in five U.S. citizens with disabilities, their family members, friends and caregivers by providing a centralized marketplace to buy products and services, as well as a mark of approval on products not specifically created for people with disabilities but which add value to their lives, such as automatic toothpaste dispensers or countertop grills.

“I don’t let my disability limit me, and I don’t think other people’s disabilities should limit them, either,” Justin said.

The key element that differentiates the Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Business Plan Competition is that each plan must be for a profitable business with social value. Contestants came from the 22 schools around the world for the second year of the competition, which challenges undergraduate college students to create a viable business venture that also generates value and meaning for the organization and significantly improves quality of life.


Houston team 2


Second place and $10,000 went to the team from the University of Oklahoma Price College of Business for Bright Sanitation, a cost-effective sanitation solution for India’s urban slums. The team of Tom Spurgat, Megan Walsh, Garett Pearce and Steve Brachtenbach gave a first-hand overview of the conditions that spurred them to come up with a viable business for self-contained, affordable toilets that preserve sanitation, dignity and safety.

“This competition gave us a much better understanding of the social value that we are bringing,” Tom said. “Other competitions are more about money and business, so we are not not able to communicate the actual impact we could have on the area.”

The team from the University of Arizona McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship won third place and $5,000 for their business plan for Onward Packs, a retailer of premium backpacks that uses a portion of the proceeds to purchase academic and sports equipment for in-need elementary schools. Jacklynn Hall, James Taylor, Amanda Wieland and Zachary Lewis showed a video of the first school to receive equipment from the start-up business, featuring interviews with teachers and students.

“We want to make this our future,” Jacklynn said. “Every action this year has been to make Onward Packs a viable, successful business so we can go out in the world and make a difference for education.”

Fourth place and $2,500 went to the team from Monterrey (Mexico) Institute of Technology and Higher Education for their sustainable plan to build jobs and community in Mexico by matching cactus farming to consumer needs in Japan. The team of Antonio Arjona, Pablo Marin Escobar, Ricardo Moncada Palafox and Jennifer Reyna Portugal opened with a video of the poverty situation throughout Mexico that led them to create a business that matched Mexico’s product with need.

“We made this group because of TCU,” Antonio said. “Jennifer taught us about the nopal (cactus) market opportunity in Japan, and we are now in a real business helping people in Mexico.”

The team from Wilfrid Laurier University (Canada), Marilyn Ma and Huzaifa Sial, won honorable mention. The team from Oklahoma State University was among those cited for Best Values-Based Concept.  

Other teams taking part were from Babson College, Ball State University, Belmont University, Erasmus University, Strossmayer University Osijek, Grand Valley State University, Kansas State University, Loyola Marymount University, New York University, Royal Roads University, Samford University, Syracuse University, Texas Christian University, University of Arkansas, Wake Forest University and Walsh University.

Judging the final competition were Ka Cotter, consultant and retired vice chair of The Staubach Company; Barry Davis, president, CEO and chairman of CrossTex Energy;  Randy Eisenman, managing partner of Satori Capital, Ray Rothrock, general partner of Venrock; and Paul Spiegelman, founder and CEO of The Beryl Companies.

“These students are beyond their years in thinking about the rest of the world,” Cotter said. “The plans were well thought out. They showed that they really do care. And they focused on making money, because you have to make money to give money.”


Elaine Cole
PR Manager
Neeley School of Business at TCU