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Robert K. O’Brien ‘Next Big Idea’ Contest Winners Announced

Worcester State University today announced the winners of its first-ever student entrepreneurship competition, the Robert K. O’Brien “Next Big Idea” Contest. Winners received cash prizes at a midday ceremony Wednesday, May 8, with the first place winner, Derek Canton, a WSU business student, receiving a check for $2,000. The inaugural contest attracted seven completed submissions from eight students, with business plans focused on everything from a casual clothing line to an on-line fitness listing service to a nonprofit historical re-enactment program.

Through a generous gift from alumnus Robert K. O’Brien ’58, Worcester State University launched the “Next Big Idea” competition early this semester. O’Brien has a long and distinguished career in business and has helped launch 10 companies employing more than 300 people. “I believe WSU students have the creative innovation to launch the ‘Next Big Idea,’” O’Brien stated. “And I’m excited about the creativity and enthusiasm this first group of competitors demonstrated in this entrepreneurship competition.”

Worcester State President Barry M. Maloney presented the $2,000 cash award and plaque to Canton. “This young man clearly demonstrated that he understood both his new business—a casual clothing line—and the requirements of a successful business plan,” said Maloney. “It is our ambition at Worcester State that our students not only have ideas good enough to succeed in the new creative economy but also the necessary skills to bring those next big ideas successfully to the market place.” In addition to recognizing contest winner Canton, Maloney recognized three other cash winners and three participants who received honorable mention certificates for their submissions.

The full list of winners appears below; the top four prize winners each receive a cash award. Second place earned $1,500; third place, $1,000; and fourth place, $500. Honorable mention recipients were presented with a certificate. A short description of each proposal follows below the contest winners chart.

1st Place

Derek Canton (Business)
G1G, company that will sell well-designed, high-quality products with a positive message that consist of novelty items including t-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, sweaters, hats, bracelets and sunglasses.

2nd Place

Kevin Chandler (Business) and Gavin Hazard- Johnson
FitListIt.com, an online hub of fitness information and advice aimed at guiding fitness-minded consumers in the right direction so they can choose the fitness sources for their needs and wants. This service will provide unbiased, user-generated reviews and reliable professional information on key areas of fitness including but not limited to fitness centers and personal trainers.

3rd Place

Adam Straughn (Communication)
The Echo Locator, GPS and Bluetooth technologies combine in a personal device tracking system that allows for close- and long-range location of individually-sold devices that attach to an endless array of personal items. With specifically designed smart-phone applications, users can trace the location of their personal items using long-range GPS monitoring aided visually by Google Maps.

4th Place

Jory Courtney (Business)
Fresh Folds Delivery Laundry Service, a pick-up and delivery laundry service with a centrally located laundromat in the Tatnuck Square area of Worcester providing customers with clean, freshly-folded clothes and linens on a weekly basis.

Honorable Mention

Kristin Morrison (Psychology)
Biffies Cookie Bar, a customized, fresh-baked cookie bar and specialty restaurant that serves a variety of mild and coffee during the day and alcoholic beverages at night.

Honorable Mention

Michael Baker (History)
History, Inc., a concept for a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization that will bring the museum experience to the public through the use of the mobile museum concept and traveling costumed interpreters.

Honorable Mention

Phillip Iaccarino (Economics)
JFM Care Centres, small, personalized group-care homes that would care for elderly in small groups providing individualized care for those not capable of tending to their own activities of daily living. Care would be provided in an environment that is structured on the belief that care for the individual and delivery of personal comfort is more important than the features and amenities offered by many larger assisted-living facilities.

The “Next Big Idea” contest was organized through WSU’s Business Department, and prospective competitors were able to participate in a free, one-credit course, An Entrepreneur’s Approach to Business Development, to assist students interested in submitting a concept for the “Next Big Idea.” The competition was open to students across the full undergraduate curriculum—not just business students—and was advised by four members of the WSU Business Administration and Economics Department: Dr. Renuka Jain (chair of the department); Dr. Joan “Jay” Mahoney (Sam Walton Fellow); Dr. Maureen Stefanini; and Dr. Rodney Oudan.

The competition included a formal submission in writing and an oral presentation of the business plan before a panel of judges, members of the Worcester State University faculty, and other members of the WSU community during the sixth annual Celebration of Scholarship and Creativity. Based on both the written submission and the verbal pitch, the judges determined the winners. Those judges included:

  • Robert K. O’Brien, founder of over five individual scholarships at Worcester State and sponsor of this competition, who started his business career at the age of nine delivering newspapers. Graduating from Worcester State in 1958, he started out as a trainee at Hanover Insurance, and rose steadily through the ranks, retiring from the company as vice president in 1989. In 1990, O’Brien founded Health Reinsurance Management, Inc., a company, which along with some 10 other associated companies that he created, employed over 300 people. Currently, O’Brien serves on the board of directors of American Security Life Insurance Company, headquartered in Uruguay, and holds the title as chief financial officer of O.G.R.E., a software developer for landlords, and president of HRMI, a venture capital firm that handles mortgages.
  • Kim Harmon is an award-winning nursing leader and entrepreneur. She has held various positions as a registered nurse, clinical director, adjunct nursing faculty, CEO and entrepreneur. Frequently recognized for her visionary leadership, she was featured in a national magazine as one of three successful female entrepreneurs in the United States. She is a 1995 graduate of the WSU nursing program, and in 2008, Harmon was the recipient of the Worcester State University’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Harmon is the founder and CEO of Life Enterprises, an organization focusing on healthcare consulting and small business coaching. She serves on the Worcester State Foundation Board as well as several local non-profit organizations.
  • Craig Bovaird, an exceptional student and one of the university’s first business administration graduates, began his business journey after graduation in 1977 as a worker at Holden Plastics. He worked there for 20 years and ended his tenure as the company’s general manager. At a time when local plastics companies were moving overseas, Bovaird decided to grow a specialized plastics maker called Built-Rite Tool & Die. Under his leadership, Built-Rite has experienced a 17 percent growth rate and has increased from 10 employees to 35 since 1999. A WSU Distinguished Professional Achievement Award recipient, Bovaird is recognized for using his WSU education wisely, providing jobs for Central Massachusetts residents, and contributing to the region’s vitality. In 2007, he was recognized by the U.S Small Business Administration as Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year.
  • David Rumrill is a senior vice president at Morgan Stanley in Wellesley, Mass, , managing over $300 million in assets. He began his business career shortly after graduating in 1991 from Bridgewater State University. In 1992, Rumrill became a licensed securities broker and acquired a business position at Fidelity Investments. He earned his certified financial planner designation in 1996 and obtained his insurance and commodity licenses in 2001. Today, Rumrill serves as a board member for Peer Health Exchange, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and Celebrities for Charity. He has also invested in various venture capital companies, including Narragansett Beer, and has taken pride in watching such companies expand and grow.
  • Patrick Donlon is a portfolio management associate at Morgan Stanley. He is responsible for client investment analysis and performance reporting. His areas of expertise include equities, private placements, and venture capital. Pat is a CFP Practitioner. He holds a B.S. in finance from Boston College, where he graduated cum laude.

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