Business Idea Competition Spotlights Saint Mary’s Entrepreneurs

Executive MBA students Jason Bandarra and Michael Lewis have a scalable, turnkey solution for managing short-term rentals—and thanks to their presentation at the 4th Annual Business Idea Competition, they now have some financial backing to help get their idea off the ground.

Every year, the Business Idea Competition brings together members of the angel investing community and Saint Mary’s students for evening of ideas and elevator pitches. Akin to the television show “Shark Tank,” members of the Keiretsu Forum ask questions of the presenters, give feedback, and ultimately select winners from graduate and undergraduate divisions.

Jason Bandarra and Michael Lewis with Randy Williams and Professor Berna AksuBandarra and Lewis were the big winners of the evening, taking home $3,000, two hours of legal counsel at Ramsey Law Group, a significantly discounted membership for the Keiretsu Academy, and an opportunity to pitch at an upcoming Angel Capital Expo for their idea MyVRHost.

MyVRHost is a company that provides property owners looking to rent their space on platforms like AirBnB with a service that manages the property for them. MyVRHost aims to eliminate the time property owners spend on preparing their rentals by taking on the tasks of marketing, guest correspondence, and cleaning.

The competition format allowed only two minutes for participants to make their pitches, followed by a four-minute question-and-answer period, and then a second four-minute period where judges could give feedback to the presenters.

Chelsea Paslay and Luke MacGregor with Randy Williams and Professor Berna AksuThe team of Luke MacGregor and Chelsea Paslay won the undergraduate division of the competition for their company Share the Health—a service that would help accurately estimate the out-of-pocket cost for health care and dental services. Share the Health addressed a real consumer need, and it was on the strength of the idea that MacGregor and Paslay were able to edge out Chris Queen and Ogi Teker and their internet radio platform Radio Rise.

Paslay and MacGregor took home $2,000, two hours of legal counsel at Ramsey Law Group, a significantly discounted membership at the Keiretsu Academy, and an invitation to present at an upcoming PitchForce event.

People's Choice Award winner Majorie JacksonMarjorie Jackson of the Executive MBA Program was the winner of the People’s Choice Award for her business Vinum Tap. Jackson pitched her idea by saying, “what Redbox is to movies, Vinum Tap is to wine.” Jackson’s idea would produce kiosks for upscale wineries to distribute their product, as well as allow for users to buy wines they enjoy at the kiosk to be sent home. Winning the People’s Choice Award netted Jackson $1,000.

Other ideas presented during the evening included technology that pulls energy from WiFi to trickle-charge batteries and a business that would ship healthy, pre-made meals to business travelers who don’t want their performance to be compromised by the poor nutrition that is often available to them on the road.

Business Idea Competition alums Gerald Cabrera and Hamsa Buvaraghan were also on hand and spoke about the impact their participation in the event has had on their careers. Cabrera, buoyed by his win in 2014, quit his job at PG&E and has been working to bring his idea of solar-power WiFi to life. Similarly, Buvaraghan, the runner-up to Cabrera, is closing in on a significant partnership that will put her start-up Inoviva in hospitals on the East Coast. For both, the competition was the starting point for their new careers.

Bandarra, Lewis, Paslay, MacGregor and all the other participants in the Competition will have the support of the SEBA faculty going forward—a point emphasized by Cabrera.

“The support from the faculty is fantastic,” he said. “I’ve reached out to my professors for help while I’ve been putting this business together. Professor Aksu, Professor Papagiannis and several others have been willing to lend their expertise as I work to get SolarFi off the ground. I’m so grateful that they’ve supported me, and I know that I can count on them at any time.”