Two Harbert College Executive MBA (EMBA) students have been chosen to compete April 6-8 in the Rice Business Plan Competition, the world’s richest and largest graduate-level student startup competition.
The business plan submitted by students Terry Namkung and Fred Parnell was chosen from more than 500 applications to the Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston. Namkung serves as CEO of DC Energy Systems, while Parnell is the quality assurance director.
The competition is hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which is Rice University's initiative devoted to the support of entrepreneurship, and the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.
“The Rice Business Plan Competition is one of the most prestigious entrepreneurship competitions,” said LaKami Baker, managing director of the Lowder Center for Family Business and Entrepreneurship. “If you review the list of universities being represented, you will see that Auburn University is among some recognized elites. I am honored to be working with Terry and Fred and look forward to having them showcase the entrepreneurial talents of Auburn University and the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business on a national stage.”
This is the 17th year for the competition. It has grown from nine teams competing for $10,000 in prize money in 2001 to 42 teams from around the world competing for more than $1.5 million in cash and prizes. A requirement for competition is that teams must be seeking outside equity capital for their ventures.
Namkung, of Yorktown, Va., and Parnell, of Pearland, Texas, were required to submit a five-page executive summary and one-minute video pitch for consideration in the competition. Rice announced the selection of its 42 competing teams on Feb. 27.
Their business plan centers upon a low-voltage electronic power distribution panel that efficiently converts solar and commercial power (110 and 220-volt AC) to low-voltage power (24-volt DC) that can drive electronic equipment, such as laptops, computers televisions and LED lights, with no energy loss. The idea incorporates old and new technology for smooth transition from AC to DC. This power distribution panel is patented by Namkung’s DC Energy Systems.
Namkung’s interest in entrepreneurship was sparked by the class Strategic Analysis and the Competitive Environment, taught by Harbert College professor Brian Connelly, and the encouragement of Baker, who visited the class to discuss entrepreneurship. Baker also encouraged Namkung to further develop the idea for AC/DC power conversion, which has served as a springboard for the DC Energy Systems company, and partner with Parnell to enter the Rice Business Plan Competition.
The idea that is the basis for the company and the business plan competition is the brainchild of Corey Ray, founder and chief operating officer of DC Energy Systems. Ray, who does not attend Auburn, began developing the idea in 2010 and approached Namkung to further develop and market it after learning of his enrollment in Auburn’s Executive MBA program.
“EMBA is the reason why we’re here,” Namkung said. “Without EMBA, my business partner (Ray) would have never approached me. He would not have thought I had the credibility or knowledge of how to do business. Having the Auburn logo on your shirt or resume speaks volumes.
“The whole experience of the entrepreneurship piece took me to the next level of being a dreamer and a visionary. I have always had the vision, but I didn’t know how to articulate it and didn’t know how to pursue opportunity. Being a part of EMBA has really changed my life ... tell people it's not just about what you learn, but it's also about networking and partnering with others."
More than 180 corporate and private sponsors support the Rice Business Plan Competition. Venture capitalists and other investors from around the country volunteer their time to judge the competition, with the majority of the 275-plus judges coming from the investment sector. In the past, 161 competitors have gone on to successfully launch their businesses and are still in business today, with another 15 having successful exits. These companies have raised in excess of $1.2 billion in funding.
The competition is designed to give collegiate entrepreneurs a real-world experience to fine tune their business plans and elevator pitches to generate funding to successfully commercialize their product. Judges will evaluate the teams as real-world entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early stage investors and venture capital firms. The judges are asked to rank the presentations based on which company they would most likely invest.
In the competition, each team will have 15 minutes to present its business plan, followed by a 20-minute question and answer session with judges. Of the 42 competing teams, 15 will advance to the semi-final round and only six will move to the finals.