Four University of the Virgin Islands students - Patricia Rogers, Ghadeer Taha, Heba Abdallah and Shoshana Pemberton - won the top three prizes in the first 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition which concluded on Friday, May 4, 2012, at the University's Administration and Conference Center on St. Thomas. Rogers took the top prize of $30,000 for her business plan for a Virgin Fresh Egg Farm. Taha and Abdallah took the $20,000 second-place award for their Lab Equipment Rental business. Pembertown won third place and $10,000 for her 360 Skate Center business.
UVI Professor Dr. Alex Randall, who served on the judging panel, presided over the prize-giving portion of the competition's final round. That round included business plan presentations by eight teams with a total of 14 UVI students. The would-be entrepreneurs' business plans range from tourism to agriculture, and personal services to locally oriented entertainment, with a touch of high tech.
Randall said the judges had a lot of difficulty reaching a decision. "It was our concerted opinion that every one of these businesses is viable. Every one of these businesses could be successful. And if you are preserving and pursue your business, and conduct the work that you laid out in your business plan, that you will be successful," he said. "Whether you win one of the three prizes or not, we (the judges) encourage you to do all the steps that are in your business plan and continue to mature and develop your businesses. They are all potentially winners in the big competition."
The judging panel included Randall, Jonathon Gula and Woody Preucil of 13D, UVI RTPark Executive Director David Zumwalt, microbiologist and entrepreneur Dr. Richard Warburg, and retired Honeywell executive Keith Aakre. They judged on the quality of each team's business plan, how well the team developed the idea, and how they answer the question - "Would you invest in this company?"
In addition to the top winners, the competitors included: Annette Bevans and Francillia Francis and their The Ultimate Party company plan; Benaiah Nicholson and Marvin Didier with an idea for BMWA Paintball; Aclesia Scotland and Shamir Joseph and their idea for a Customer Service Training Center; Vandel Percival's plan for Virgin Island Adventures ATV; and Sharona Pickering, Yanique Smith and Kimberlee Smith's plans for Nannies to the Rescue.
UVI business professor Dr. Glenn Metts, who shepherded the overall 13D competition, exhorted all the participants to continue the efforts they had started. "People who win in business are not the people who win prizes, necessarily," he said. "It's the people who keep working. It's a matter of tenacity. It's a matter of continuously reinventing your idea and refining it and making it better and better." He noted that a number of potential investors, from the business and government sectors attended Friday's competition. "They heard your stuff. There are many places for you to turn over stones in this community, such as the EDA and SBDC and those in this room," Dr. Metts said.
UVI President Dr. David Hall concluded the awards ceremony by thanking student participants. "The University is extremely proud of you, not only our winners, but everyone who participated. You conducted yourselves well. You demonstrated a high level of professionalism and creativity. We know that this just the beginning," Hall said. "We are just honored to have you be representatives of this University."
He also thanked the judges and acknowledged the initial support provided by Kiril Sokoloff and 13D. "To 13D and Kiril Sokoloff, we are just extremely indebted for allowing a dream to become a reality. What we saw with these checks was really an investment not only in the lives of these young men and women, but an enormous investment in the future of the territory."
The 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition was announced to UVI students in September of 2011. The initial competition - which was open to all undergraduate and graduate students at UVI - drew a field of 72 students in 21 teams. It was funded by a $5 million gift to UVI from Kiril Sokoloff, an investment strategist and entrepreneur who founded 13D Research, which is based on St. Croix. Along with annual entrepreneurship competitions for students, the gift is intended to establish and endow the Kiril Sokoloff Distinguished Professorship, the University's first endowed chair, and to initiate an Entrepreneurial Speaker Series.