The Other March Madness: A College ‘Net Competition’ - Higher Education


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The Other March Madness: A College ‘Net Competition’

by Black Issues

The Other March Madness: A College ‘Net Competition’

SAN FRANCISCO — It was the other March Madness competition: a battle for millions of dollars in venture capital as the final four out of dozens of college teams focused on “Nothin’ but the (Inter)Net.”
There were no easy layups,  only one slam dunk to make in a scramble among nearly 100 college teams from across the world to present the most promising idea for an Internet startup.
For the winner, San Francisco-based venture capital firm Hummer Winblad promised as much as $10 million and a chance to move on for a shot at a real-world game that could be called “Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?” — the dream of Internet riches.
For the runners-up: a hearty handshake, a glass trophy and a sushi and salmon dinner.
As the top four finishers gathered last month at a San Francisco restaurant, replays of college basketball games played in the background, a clear reminder that this is the season for upsets.
What school might you expect to see make the cut as these engineers and MBAs computed their odds and uttered business jargon such as “leveraging technology” and “empowering people?”
Northwestern? Knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen in February.
Harvard? Stanford? Both upset in the round of eight.
“It was not a, ‘Hey, let me build a Kool-Aid stand,’ kind of thing,” Hummer Winblad partner Dan Beldy says of the 250 business plans that were submitted.
“We saw our fair share of infrastructure, communication types of deals, non-sexy behind-the-scenes type technologies and applications — it was all over the map. And that’s a credit just to the ingenuity and the energy that’s coming out of the university system.”
A very nervous Final Four — teams from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Northeastern University, University of California at Berkeley and University of California at  Irvine — sipped wine and huddled in their respective groups as they offered only tantalizing details of their top-secret dreams to keep potential competitors guessing.
The head of the team from Berkeley, for instance, would say only that his business idea came to him while standing under the hot jets of a shower a few months ago.
The company — to be launched within three months with or without Hummer Winblad’s money — will “provide a major e-commerce experience by leveraging highly proprietary technology in a very, very interesting way,” says company chief executive and former Berkeley engineering professor Wade Wren.
Wharton’s team developed marketing software to help e-commerce companies get people who browse their site to actually buy something through instant promotions or follow-up e-mails based on what you looked at.
Northeastern’s team said that their project helped “improve the Internet experience,” and left it at that.
The winning entry came from the Irvine team, who were set to launch, a company that would allow doctors and their staffs to check out the latest information on drugs and keep up to date on their potential uses for patients.
“Patient care comes first, and with the technology we have, we can empower physicians to interact with the industry at their own call, when they want to, how they want to,” says Quang Pham, the company’s chief executive.
After the initial funding of between $5 million and $8 million from Hummer Winblad, hopes to charge drug companies to post their information, a move they say could help the pharmaceutical participants by selling more of their products.
“This is just the start, the funding is just the beginning,” Pham said after the win.  

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