A winch-operated system that enables one person to load lawn mowers, all-terrain vehicles and other heavy items on to pickup trucks won Wright State University’s first Wright Venture “Face the Wolves” business competition.
The One Man EZ-Load System bested two other business ideas during the April 21 competition, which drew about 150 spectators to the Student Union Atrium.
Winner Sean Donohue, a Wright State M.B.A. student from Dayton, received a prize of $5,000 in loan money to put into his company.
“The award is huge for the business,” Donohue said. “This is going to give us some bargaining power to lower manufacturing costs and get the business off the ground.”
Wright Venture was modeled after “Shark Tank,” an ABC-TV reality competition series that features aspiring entrepreneurs making business presentations to a panel of potential investors.
Donohue’s product consists of two metal “saddles” that can be snapped on to the panels of the truck bed. A cable anchored by the saddles is then attached to a riding mower or other heavy object, which is pulled up a ramp and onto the truck bed with a manual brake winch.
Donohue has a patent pending on the product and has already sold 65 of them, charging $199 apiece. His target market includes landscapers, hunters, landlords, motorcycle and ATV riders and older consumers.
“It’s so simple, and it takes minimal, minimal effort,” he said. “We think the sky is the limit. There is a very big market for this product.”
Donohue fielded questions from the panel of eight judges, who wanted to know how fast he could ramp up production and marketing.
The goal of Wright Venture is to create a real-life, lasting experience that will be identical to an actual business startup. This experience includes: networking, mentorship, creative idea development, product design, service creation, financial management, business planning and marketing skills.
Donohue said the Wright Venture competition was instrumental in helping him with his new business.
“My education at Wright State has been so helpful,” he said. “This should be a capstone course for anybody with a business degree. Everything I used in my classes went into this.”
The other two finalists were teams that were seeking financial support to produce healthy, low-carb energy bars and a computer app that creates memory-filled scrapbooks. The teams include Fat Bombs Nutrition created by students Rachel Brun and Devin Algren, which won the Fan Favorite award; and J&J Technologies created by John Alkharaji and Jacob Barnes, which won the Leader of the Pack social media “likes” award.
Wright Venture was part of an effort for a more robust entrepreneurial program. It was suggested by Earl Gregorich, director of Wright State’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and coordinator of Wright Venture. He says the university does a great job of teaching the theories and concepts of accounting, finance and management, but the real world of starting a business goes beyond academics.
Gregorich says the competition forced the students to analyze their business ideas more closely and overcome challenges to make their businesses even better than they originally envisioned.
Wright Venture was created by the Raj Soin College of Business with initial funding sponsored by the James Family Student Entrepreneurship Program and matched by the college and the Wright State Foundation.
Keynote judge Barry James, president/CEO and portfolio manager of James Investment Research, said nearly all successful entrepreneurs have failed multiple times before triumphing.
“Never give up; never quit believing in yourself,” James said. “Be sure to focus on your strengths, and always look at how you can add value to your clients. If you do excellent work with honesty and at a reasonable cost, you will never lack business.”