Waffle cart plan wins Enterprise competition

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. That approach to the college's annual Enterprise Plan Competition earned a $5,000 first-place prize for four Saint Michael's friends who came up with a detailed business plan to sell custom waffles from a food cart that would be portable to Burlington's Church Street, a local ski resort, the South End Friday Truck Stop and local fairs and festivals.

Second prize, $2,500, went to a plan for "Green Mountain Aquaponics Center," a nonprofit education organization utilizing closed-loop, sustainable agriculture to cultivate healthy food (fish, vegetables) and environmental awareness for the community through a visitor/education center alongside their proposed Hinesburg, VT, greenhouse/aquarium operation; while third prize of $1,000 went to the Aqua Vitae team for their plan to produce and market berry-flavored spring water with a Vermont localvore twist and attractive recyclable glass bottles, using a spring on a team member's family property for their water supply and local produce for flavors.

Competition judge Michael Seaver '81, a local bank president, said that the Waffle Cart team members, both in their personal presentations and the product itself, were "superb" in covering all the necessary details from permitting to licensing while providing very practical and extensive cost analysis for five years. Judge Chloe Cangardel of the Williston-based intellectual property consulting firm ipCapital Group said she most appreciated the "feasibility" of the presentation by the four business majors, while Michael Krinksy, president of The Mountain Corporation apparel manufacturers in Keene, NH, said "I'd be looking for how many carts I could open up." Judge Diana Dunn, an electrical engineer with long engineering and management experience from GM to Sperry-Unisys and IBM, offered insightful questions and commentary on the practical aspects of the proposals as well.

The winning Waffle Cart team members were Ryan Schroeder of Duxbury, MA, Elanna Lalezari of Saco, ME, Connor Cohan of Greenfield Center, NY, and Reilly D'Elia of Jeffersonville, VT – all senior business majors. The Green Mountain Aquaponics team was Thomas Dunworth (Upper Montclair, NJ), Luke Graci (East Northport, NY), Jillian Mulcahy (Brandon, VT), Taylor Luneau (East Hardwick, VT) and Mike Brown (Dunstable, MA). Luneau and Brown are biology majors and joined the competition thanks to a class co-taught by Robert Letovsky of business and Valerie Banschbach of biology/environmental studies that explores socially aware and "green" business approaches). Aqua Vitae consisted of Corey Carlos (Essex Junction, VT), Steve French (Goffstown, NH), Nick Nelson (Middletown, CT) and Chris Sheehy (Brooklyn, NY), all business majors.

Other finalist teams that presented on Friday afternoon, April 25, in the Pomerleau Alumni Center at the start of the annual Academic Symposium weekend before a packed large event room, were the "Dynamix" team (custom workout nutrition products) and PhotoDoc (diagnosis of skin rashes via photo-recognition software and nurse consultants).

Letvosky, one of the veteran organizers of the competition, noted that the finalists were selected from 36 plans that students submitted, with most of the department serving as first-readers. The Enterprise Plan prizes are funded by sponsors Peter Worrell '79, H'06 and his wife, Kareen Kendrick Worrell '77. The Annual Enterprise Competition, which "challenges Saint Michael's undergraduates to develop and market sustainable business plans to a panel of business leaders serving as competition judges," began in 2000 at the initiative of the Worrells. Finalists this year also received a copy of  Peter Worrell's recent book, Enterprise Value. Since a business commitment kept Worrell from attending and speaking as he customarily does, retiring Business Professor Dennis Voight addressed the teams and audience, speaking of how the proper goal for businesses perhaps is "value" more than simply "profits."

The Waffle Cart team painted a vivid picture of their operation, including an image on a Powerpoint slide of the blue and yellow cart they propose to use  that would contain a special waffle iron allowing the proprietors to efficiently turn out fluffy waffles with toppings rolled up so that no utensils are needed. They also planned to offer options like deep-fried Oreos or Reese's Cups candy, as one sees commonly at fairs, and water, keeping it simple and manageable. Their detailed plan included financial analysis of all their costs, including explanation of how they would keep costs down by renting a house together in Burlington with a garage to store the cart, and they established the legality of using the kitchen for some prep. Each team member proposed pitching in $5,000, earned from their jobs landscaping and waitressing or from family support. The plan allowed them to do their other jobs part-time along with the cart if necessary, all adding to the real-world feasibility and realism in the judge's eyes. They also talked to a promotions director at Smuggler's Notch who was excited about their idea for the cart.

The guiding mentor for the Waffle Cart and Aqua Vitae teams was Tammy Mullarky, associate professor of business administration and accounting, while Letovsky and Banschbach were the teachers of the Aquaponics group's seminar. Letovsky was a master of ceremonies for the proceedings, along with colleague and competition co-organizer Karen Popovich of the Business Department, while the department's administrative assistant Julia Kirby was credited with a lion's share of pulling the event together. William Anderson, a co-founder of the competition and former business professor who is now the college's chief information officer, attended too.

In awarding the prizes, all the judges said they were impressed with every presentation and how professionally each was presented. While some of the more complex business plans were impressive in their ambitious scope, Seaver said, he added that "With complexity comes greater responsibility" to support what is being proposed with data and strong research.

"I'm proud as always to see the work coming out of the school from which I graduated," the alumnus judge added.