By Nathaniel Luce
James Murray, a Vanderbilt Business MBA student, has been awarded a $25,000 Sohr Grant to support his startup, NewsCart, a cloud-based content aggregator designed for enterprise-level communications teams.
Collecting internal and external sources of news for newsletters, press releases, and other media can be a time-consuming process for communications professionals. Utilizing machine-learning to gauge individual preferences, NewsCart offers ready access to relevant newsfeeds and the ability to publish news collections to their audiences.
“It’s an exciting win for our team,” says Murray, who worked in the publishing world for several years before graduate school. “NewsCart’s mission is to help companies cultivate a smarter workforce, and the Sohr Grant will help us establish a solid foundation for achieving that goal.”
Murray began formulating the idea for NewsCart last year in Professor Michael Burcham’s Launching the Venture class, which “changed my life,” Murray says. “It provided me the framework to build a viable business.” Subsequent independent studies with Burcham and Professor Germain Boer helped him refine the business plan and launch the concept.
“James really developed his idea well, and his industry knowledge was a big plus,” says Boer. “He understands the customers, how to reach them, and what their problems are.”
Burcham’s Launching the Venture course has been the birthplace of and proving ground for several business plans that students have turned into Sohr Grant-winning startups. Most recently, 2015 winners Trisha Fridrich (Multriply, a mobile ticketing platform), Chris Gerding and Leiya Hasan (Boomalang, a foreign language education service) brought their pitches from the course to life with help from the Sohr Grant.
“The Sohr Grant process was challenging,” says Murray, whose startup recently took first place at SXSW’s PitchTexas competition. “We had to go through three rounds of pitches, Q&A, and evaluation over the course of several months before receiving the award. Raising money is hard, though, so it was a great opportunity for us to experience what it takes.”
With technical leadership and a development team in place, Murray is building a beta version of the service, to be launched later this year, with three leading US media and technology companies on board and prospects in the pipeline.
Each year, up to five Vanderbilt MBA students are awarded Sohr Grants to explore their ideas and start a business. Jim Sohr (BE’86, MBA’90) and his wife Leah began awarding the grants to student entrepreneurs at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management in 2012.
Students compete each year for Sohr Grants by pitching their business idea to a group of successful entrepreneurs who help judge the competition. At least one award is made annually. In addition to the award money, the Sohr Grant allows students to gain invaluable perspectives from a seasoned entrepreneur network.
“The Sohr Grant has had a very positive impact on the Entrepreneurship Program,” Boer says, “because it incentivizes students to give their idea a real shot, and because Jim Sohr offers a wealth of knowledge and support to participants.
“It’s a big motivator for students, win or lose – we’ve had students who didn’t earn a grant their first year come back the next year with an improved concept and a winning pitch.”
Contact Person: Nate Luce Director of Business News and Communications
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