Posted March 26, 2007

Two From Fox School Win Citywide Student Entrepreneur Idol

Sometimes two heads are better than one.

At least that was the case in Philadelphia’s Student Entrepreneur Idol competition, held March 2 in Mitten Hall at Temple University. The contest ended in a tie.

In the first-ever citywide student entrepreneur competition, Sean Massenburg, a sophomore marketing major, and Jenna Strausser, a junior entrepreneurship major, both at Temple’s Fox School of Business, shared the title of Philadelphia’s Student Entrepreneur Idol.

The competition, organized and presented by The Fox School’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute (IEI) and sponsored by the City of Philadelphia’s Commerce Department, Campus Philly and CBS3, was designed for undergraduate students from all over the city to put their creativity and entrepreneurship skills to the test.

Fox Idol
Photo by Lisa Godfrey
Citywide Student Entrepreneur Idol winners, (l. to r.) Temple Fox School students Sean Massenburg (’09) and Jenna Strausser (’08).

Thirty-two students, from eight schools throughout Philadelphia — Cheyney University, the Community College of Philadelphia, Drexel University, Penn State University Delaware County campus, Strayer University, Temple, Ursinus College and the University of Pennsylvania — participated. Half of the contestants were from Temple.

Contestants were judged on their creativity and eloquence and the feasibility of their ideas. Six seasoned judges from the business community provided feedback to the contestants.

The judges included Richard Bendis, president of True Product ID; Paul Green, founder and president of the Paul Green School of Rock Music; Jon Herrmann, founder of Campus Philly; Lyn Kremer, publisher of The Philadelphia Business Journal; Hal Real, founder of the Real Entertainment Group and World Café Live; and Alan Lewenthal, founder of Marquis Auto Restorations and vice president of Kitchen & Bath Wholesalers. CBS 3 consumer affairs reporter Jim Donovan was the master of ceremonies for the event.

“This will help people practice pitching their business ideas in a compelling, spontaneous way — something that is just as important as writing a business plan,” said Rebecca Davis (Fox BBA ’04), who coordinated the event for the IEI and who is also an entrepreneur, having founded the Rebecca Davis Dance Company.

“I also wanted to come up with an idea that was appealing to young people,” Davis added in describing the theme of the event.

In five rounds of competition, students had to prove their competence in coming up with marketing ideas on the spot. Their first challenge was to sell SEPTA by trying to make the transit service appealing to business commuters. Some slogans included “SEPTA Saves Cents,” “SEPTA: Save Time, Save a Dime” and “Keep both hands on your PDA,” with a picture of a businessman/woman holding his/her PDA like a steering wheel.

The second round involved coming up with innovative ideas using a simple plastic plate.

“Think of something completely different, something that the plate isn’t, and make it into something else,” Lewenthal said.

In the final round, the two finalists were asked to come up with a plan, including ads, a prize and a format, to launch their own version of an Entrepreneur Idol competition in Philadelphia.

The final result was a tie. “Both of them had good ideas, but had different strengths. We couldn’t choose one winner,” Lewenthal said.

“One had the mission, the other had the plan,” said keynote speaker Dr. Richard E. Caruso, founder of Integra LifeSciences Corporation and The Uncommon Individual Foundation.

The winners split the $1,000 prize.

“I was excited to get the chance to compete. The format was good because in a lot of meetings somebody has your ideas and you’re on the spot to come up with a different idea,” Massenburg said.

“I liked being able to ask ethical questions to the judges … being put on the spot, and having to answer a question in such a short amount of time,” said Strausser, who plans to work with her father in real estate once she graduates.

The winners will share a lunch meeting with Caruso, who was the keynote speaker during the luncheon attended by more than 100 community members, including contestants. Caruso is the 2006 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year.

He was introduced by Temple President Ann Weaver Hart, who praised the IEI’s cross-campus approach to promoting entrepreneurship at Temple, and emphasized the importance of entrepreneurship in today’s economy.

According to Josh Sevin, manager of Knowledge Industry Initiatives at the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, the competition benefited both the students and the city.

“We’re hoping that if student entrepreneurs start a business in the city, they’ll stay in the city,” he said. “It’s not just the large businesses we’re looking for, it’s mid-sized ones. The strategy is focusing on entrepreneurship and small businesses, to help the city with economic growth.”

The event also had members of the community excited about the future of entrepreneurship.

“Having the students put on the spot is exactly what it’s like in the business world, so this is letting them get real life experience,” said Naomi Leapheart, president of the Matchstick Group. “It’s a nice change from the typical business plan competition.”

This event was part of EntrepreneurshipWeek USA, a nationwide event sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and by government, nonprofit organizations and businesses.