Students from Sauder and UBC Engineering lead the way nationally in "New Venture Design" at Enterprize National Finals


VANCOUVER – UBC students from the innovative undergraduate class COMM486: New Venture Design were big winners at the Enterprize National Finals, held this past weekend in downtown Vancouver.

One of the teams to come out of the class, EasyPlug, placed second overall, winning a $10,000 prize. The team's success means it is also guaranteed an audition with the venture capitalists from CBC Television's "Dragon¹s Den" – where graduates of COMM486 have made successful pitches before – according to the Enterprize website. Additionally, the team would have the chance to present to the pre-screening panelists of the Vancouver Angel Technology Networks (VANTEC).

EasyPlug's venture involves the safe disconnection of plugs at the wall if there is an impact that would otherwise be dangerous to the user or damaging to the appliance. Team members are (Sauder) Ryan Fetterly, Crystal Hung, Max Miller, and (Engineering) Jay Jagpal, Shane Miller-Tait and Greg Wong.

Established in 2005 jointly by the Sauder School of Business and UBC Engineering – and designed by marketing professor Darren Dahl and electrical and computer engineering professor Peter Lawrence – COMM486: New Venture Design focuses on supporting teams consisting of students from both fields to come up with a new business venture. The class continues to garner attention in both academic and industry circles.

This year, with Dahl on sabbatical, the team is being supervised by Sauder marketing instructor Paul Cubbon, along with UBC Engineering's Lawrence and Philippe Kruchten.

"Unlike many courses that involve business plans around theoretical ideas, this course requires that teams generate a patentable idea and take it forward as a real new business start up," says Cubbon. "This involves prototyping, seeking seed funding and much more."

"Teams are encouraged to enter appropriate business plan and entrepreneurship competitions to test and improve their abilities to pitch their ideas, and to raise awareness, along with initial seed funding through prize money," he adds.

Previous to the national finals, three of the four class teams competed in the Enterprize Western regional finals in Calgary. At the regionals, COMM486 produced the winner and third place teams, who won $3000 and $1000 respectively. The winning UBC team in Calgary was Purelito, whose business model revolves around a portable device to provide travellers with quick, convenient and safe water when travelling in areas with water quality or health risks. Team members are (Sauder) Sherry Chen, Graham Smith and Anika De la Flor, and (Engineering) Sherry Ding, Alastair McKee and Alex Zolpys.

Cubbon notes that the coursework and competition can help propel students into entrepreneurial careers. "This gives student teams a real taste for the new venture start-up environment, and fuels their entrepreneurial drive," he says.

This is not the first time COMM486: New Venture Design has enjoyed a high level of success. Last year, one of the graduating teams, PeerFX, was offered $250,000 of venture capital funding on the aforementioned Dragon's Den.

And the energy monitoring product of another COMM486 team, Energy Aware, will be showcased in the Olympic Village during the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

All four of this year’s class teams continue to work on their inventions, developing prototypes and moving their business plans forward. This progression will allow them to enter further competitions and to seek early stage financing that can help them take their ideas from the classroom to real-world businesses.