This spring, University of Tulsa team Composite Damage Solutions took top honors in the graduate high growth division of the 2017 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup statewide collegiate business plan competition. The Love’s Cup simulates the process of creating a business plan and pitching the idea to potential investors. Teams comprised of graduate and undergraduate students compete for cash prizes at the state level.
The top two teams in the small business, graduate high growth and undergraduate high growth categories advanced to the Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Award competition May 30-31 in Las Vegas, where they faced the top teams from Arkansas, Nevada and Oklahoma for additional cash prizes, as well as support from any venture capitalists in attendance.
The idea for the Composite Damage Solutions’ business plan originated with a patent developed by TU Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Michael Keller (BSME ’01). “Our product was designed to address the growing use of composites in aerospace and other industries,” explained team member Troy Berman (BSBA ’15), an MBA student at TU’s Collins College of Business. “It’s difficult and time consuming to detect damage in this material, so Keller and his team engineered a magnetic substance that can reveal damage either visually or through the use of a magnetic sensor.”
As the airline industry moves toward the use of composites, carriers must over-engineer the material for safety reasons, partially because damage in composites is hard to detect. “Our product will help lower the weight of aircraft, creating fuel savings or larger capacities, which ultimately can bring savings to the airline as well as end users,” said Berman.
Team member and MBA student Travis McClanahan said the team put together its business plan over the course of about eight weeks, working at least 10 hours each week and about 30 hours in the last weeks leading up to April’s competition. “A lot of hours went into this project, but we’re very happy with the end result,” he said. “Through this process, we have developed the business plan, sales and marketing strategies, complete financial projections and a final presentation.”
Reflecting on their success in the Love’s Cup competition, team leader and MBA student Matthew Faeth (BA ’16) emphasized the importance of drawing from each member’s respective strengths. “Travis has a background in advanced mathematics, I graduated from TU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and managed a former mayor of Tulsa’s reelection campaign, and Troy is also a TU graduate who served our country for eight years as a senior airman in the U.S Air Force and has experience taking a business from inception to exit. And, we wouldn’t be here without Professor Keller — he worked with his team of engineers to bring the product to fruition and make this business plan a reality.”
Keller says that, “For me, this was an exciting opportunity because my primary passion in life and what I enjoy doing is developing technology that I think are going to change the world. But I do that in a lab and it takes a team of businesspeople to take those ideas and push them to the market so that these ideas can impact the world.” He also adds that TU’s strong culture of cross-department collaboration fosters the type of interdisciplinary work that makes project teams such as Composite Damage Solutions a success. “It’s exciting to watch the team them go through the market analysis process, which is a critical part of technology development and one that I don’t typically only get to see.”
Faeth says that TU offers numerous avenues for students to pursue individual interests. “Whatever your interest, there’s ample opportunity to delve into that. We’re all interested in entrepreneurship and developing businesses, and the Love’s Cup course was able to expand on that desire.” He also says that TU’s small class sizes and the personal relationships established with professors came into play when preparing for the competition. “Every step of the way in this process, we were able to reach out to faculty members, whether they were in finance, accounting or management. We have those relationships that we could go back to and amazing people we could use as resources, which helped make our business plan as good as it could be.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” McClanahan said of competing in the Tri-State Awards. “I feel like it will be a great opportunity for us to ignite our professional careers. If any of us want to pursue entrepreneurship in the future, this is the place where we can have that final test run.”