By Kara Sherrer
Last week, seven start-up teams pitched for a $25,000 entrepreneurship grant in Averbuch Auditorium.
The money comes in the form of a Sohr Grant, named after founder and veteran entrepreneur Jim Sohr (MBA’90). The grant program provides funding for a maximum of five students each year, and the funds are paid in three blocks, contingent on how the student develops their company.
“If you go around to other top business schools, having grants of this size are pretty rare,” Michael Bryant, Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Vanderbilt, told attendees at the beginning of the competition.
Students presented their ideas to a judges panel of seasoned entrepreneurs. Teams had five minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A.
Business ideas covered a wide range of industries, from handcrafted laser-cut wood designs (created and sold by MBA’18 Taneisha Gordon through her company Sukhino Designs) to a software platform that connects parents to available daycare providers (presented by EMBA’18 Billy Ripley). Deepen Patel (MBA’18) pitched the judges on contributing to his search fund, in which investors pay a promising entrepreneur’s salary for two years while he/she looks for a privately held company to acquire and grow.
Two Summer Grant recipients, Rachel Rock-Blake and Patrick Morsches (both MBA’18), brought their businesses to the Sohr Grant competition.
Rock-Blake’s concept is Green Anchor, a certification designed to combat invasive species, such as Asian Carp in the Mississippi watershed. “Green Anchor embodies the spirit of environmental entrepreneurship,” Rock-Blake told judges.
Morsches’ concept, Let’s Room Together, is a website that helps graduate students find roommates. He currently has 29 graduate programs signed up for the service and has scheduled a tour of Southwest after he graduates in May. “I’m doing this full-time,” he said.
Let’s Room Together earned a trip to the final round, as did another housing concept, Avail, founded by Cameron Huddleston (MBA’18). Avail helps graduate students rent to each other during summer internships, undercutting the short-term housing premium they would otherwise pay.
If you go around to other top business schools, having grants of this size are pretty rare – Michael Bryant
The final concept to advance, Leaf, is a blockchain-based mobile app that allows refugees to safely transport their money digitally from country to country. Tori Samples (MBA’18) and Nat Robinson (MBA ’07, JD’18) presented the concept; their team also includes Connor Echols and Alejandro Sabillon (both MBA ’18) and Kevin Lubin (GPED ’18).
“I’ve spent most of my life working with refugees…So many people have wealth at home, but without the ability to access it, it may as well be non-existent,” Samples said. “I ask you to remember these 65 million (refugees) living without the ability to change their circumstances, and support us as we provide transformative solutions for them.”
Students will have another chance to pitch for the Sohr Grants in the spring. To learn more about other entrepreneurship opportunities at Vanderbilt Business, visit the new Center for Entrepreneurship website.