UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


UNC Kenan-Flagler team places second in prestigious business plan competition


A team from The University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School won second place and more than $142,000 April 18 in the largest graduate-level business plan competition in the world.

The UNC Kenan-Flagler team won second place in the 2009 Rice Business Plan Competition for its work to develop UNC Medical School spinoff NextRay Inc.

Notable UNC breast cancer researcher and vice dean of the UNC Medical School Etta Pisano developed NextRay’s technology. NextRay provides medical imaging with more detail than current x-rays but with less than one percent of the radiation dose.

The UNC Kenan-Flagler team won many awards during the contest and total funding of $142,000. Their prize for a second-place win overall was $15,000. They also won the $100,000 Life Science Prize from Opportunity Houston and The Greater Houston Partnership Award. And they took home a $20,000 NASA Earth/Space Engineering Innovation Award. They also earned awards for the best business plan, best medical device and best life science project.

The team included: MBAs John Lerch (MBA ’09), Justin Cross (MBA ’10), Stephen Jarrett (MBA ’10) and undergraduate journalism student Allen Mask.

NextRay is part of the UNC Kenan-Flagler Student Teams Achieving Results (STAR) program. The STAR program sends teams of top MBAs and undergraduate business students to companies and not-for-profits to help them build effective business strategies.

The NextRay STAR project was chosen from 339 business plan teams from around the world to compete in the Rice competition. The team competed against 41 other teams in Houston to win second place. Dynamics of Carnegie Mellon University won the grand prize. Dynamics produces next-generation interactive payment cards that use programmable magnetic strips.

Lerch, NextRay’s COO says that NextRay is now making plans for the next version of its technology.

“The money from the competition will be spent mostly on consultants and continued student help to refine our plans to take this technology to market,” he added.

The $100,000 prize requires that the company relocate to Houston. Lerch noted that the team knows of no other requirements of that award, but will evaluate the offer as it learns more.

In addition to the STAR program, a series of programs that are part of the Carolina Entrepreneurial Initiative (CEI) helped the team. Lerch met Pisano while working in the Carolina Entrepreneurial Fellows Program, a part of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at UNC. In addition, coaches who work with the business school’s Launching the Venture program coached the NextRay team before the competition.

“This outcome shows how well the CEI’s innovation system works to support UNC entrepreneurs,” noted Ted Zoller, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “Our programs brought together a noted scientist on the faculty with both graduate and undergraduate students trained in entrepreneurship. CEI incubated the venture and supported its launch. This bodes well for the future of faculty entrepreneurship and for technology spinoffs at UNC.”

“It has been so exciting to see how effective it is to work across the entire UNC community,” noted Lerch. “We took amazing technology from the medical school and with people from the business school and the local venture community helped to develop it.”

Pisano is using her experience with NextRay to build a support system for entrepreneurial spinoffs at the Medical School. These spinoffs are part of UNC’s new National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), which she directs. The Medical School is partnering with UNC Kenan-Flagler and the UNC Office of Technology Development to create the North Carolina Center for Biomedical Innovation Translation (NC-CBIT). The program will support the efforts of faculty and other to bring life sciences projects to market.

NC-CBIT will offer faculty the chance to work with a team of entrepreneurs-in-residence. The team is jointly appointed between the medical and business schools to help support medical commercialization. NC-CBIT will also support these projects with a targeted grant program.

“Rice is the preeminent global business plan competition. The success of the team from UNC tangibly demonstrates the leadership among our faculty and students in entrepreneurship, and the university’s commitment under the CEI to bring together the resources to support our innovators on campus,” Zoller noted. “We look forward to the future success stories that will result from the collaboration between the medical and business schools, and the extraordinary entrepreneurial leaders in science on this campus.”

The Rice Competition is designed to give graduate student entrepreneurs a real-world experience to refine their business plans and elevator pitches so they can successfully bring their products to market. Judges evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs trying to secure startup funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms. The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Rice University's flagship initiative supporting entrepreneurship, hosts and organizes the event.

Misuzu Miyata (MBA ’10) and Alex Lassiter (BSBA ’10) are also members of the NextRay STAR team, and the team’s STAR advisor is Tom Mercolino.