Business Plan Competition Helps Student Entrepreneurs Bring Ideas to Life

April 16, 2024

Coffee served through tea bag-like pouches, an app that informs parents of school bus delays, and another that helps social media influencers and their audiences monetize content were the winners in the 2024 James and Eileen Christmas Business Plan Competition and Pitch Event, hosted by The Peter J. Tobin College of Business on April 11.

Five business plan proposals were presented to a panel of judges. They questioned the student-presenters on the capital needed to launch their businesses, the potential for product growth, and their anticipated competitors. More than 40 business plans entered the competition; the field was winnowed to 10 in early April and, later, five.

Daria Stepanova and Dayan C. Pita Garcia won first place for their plan to develop Artesano, an artisanal coffee company that serves authentic Colombian coffee in tea bags. The pair said the $5,000 first prize will contribute significantly to the $20,000 they need to bring their coffee to hotels and major airports, which they see as ideal initial markets.   

Daria and Dayan conducted a blind taste test recently at the D’Angelo Center and said that 65 percent of those surveyed were impressed by Artesano—hinting at a broad market for the beverage made from beans said to produce a less bitter taste than over-the-counter coffee.

“Colombia is famous for its coffee. It’s delicious,” said Daria, a native of Moscow, Russia, pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree in Entrepreneurship. Her travel-based YouTube channel, Dari Step, boasts 38,000 subscribers and will be a prime marketing tool for Artesano.

“In the beginning, we might have been a little intimidated about entering such a competitive industry,” Daria continued. “But we believe in the high quality of our product and the competitiveness of our pricing.”

Dayan, a native of Bucaramanga, Colombia, pursuing an M.B.A. in Marketing Management, said the pair will harvest coffee beans from sustainable farms near her hometown. “We want to honor the farmers of Colombia—who are the real people behind the business,” she said. “We believe in maintaining social responsibility in our business.”

The James and Eileen Christmas Business Plan Competition is one of the primary business-development competitions on the University calendar. It is underwritten by Mr. Christmas ’70CBA, who served as one of the panelists.

Joining him were Christopher P. Long, Ph.D., Professor, Management, Entrepreneurship, Consulting, and Operations (MECO), and Director, Executive-in-Residence Program; William D, Reisel, Ph.D., Professor, MECO; Joan Lacagnina ’88CBA, a Managing Director at the global investment firm KKR & Co. Inc.; and Razia Khan-Basdeo ’16TCB, ’20MBA, Risk and Compliance Senior Manager at the business consulting firm Protiviti.

Also on hand was Audrey Long, daughter of Dr. Long, who, at 13 years old, started an online retail business inspired by the television series Gossip Girl. Four-plus years later, the business boasts revenue in the six figures.

“You must find your passion, learn the value of good marketing, and integrate that passion into your life,” Audrey, now 18, told the St. John’s student entrepreneurs. “Most of all, you have to start.”

John Mussalli, a third-year Computer Science student at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies, agreed. John will apply his $2,000 second prize toward developing his app Bus Now, which alerts parents to delays and other issues associated with local school bus routes.

From Flushing, NY, John said he sees a potentially robust market in suburban school districts nationwide. Districts will be charged an average of $39 per bus per month and he will grow the business by directly appealing to parents, traffic-safety advocates, and parent-teacher associations.

“More than 26 million students take school buses to school,” John said. “But there seems to be a lack of clear communication between students, parents, and schools. This app enables school officials to communicate directly to parents.”    

Third-place winner James Bailey ’18CPS said his planned app, called Bridge, “bridges” the financial divide between social media influencers and their audiences, enabling both parties to profit from content created by either. James said audiences would uniquely benefit from viral content involving influencers shared across the app, a distribution thoroughfare to audience members’ social media platforms.

James, pursuing an M.B.A. in Entrepreneurship, said he had over 100 business ideas saved on his phone. “I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” he said. “That’s what motivates me.”