A miracle drink to cure hangovers. A cream that brightens the color on tattoos. An ergonomic shovel. A website that cuts the humble car salesman out of the deal.
In addition to dreaming up these inventions, students in Loyola Marymount University’s new business-incubator class created the prototypes.
The lab kicked off in January, and officially wraps up its first-ever semester next week.
“We don’t do much theory, we don’t do much lecturing, we don’t do too much documentation,” said the professor, David Choi. “We just work. ”
LMU’s College of Business Administration has long been home to one of the nation’s premier entrepreneurship programs. A regular presence on the best-of lists of such magazines as BusinessWeek and Princeton Review, the 40-year-old entrepreneurship program has always offered courses that educate students on the basics of launching an enterprise.
What’s different about the incubator lab is that it requires students to not only create a business plan, but also build a prototype and test it in the marketplace.
As a result, the line between classroom project and real-world sales pitch can be a little blurry. But that’s the appeal.
“I get to pursue my business model while pursuing my master’s degree, which is the coolest combination of all,” said Stephen Walden, a 23-year-old MBA student. He is the creator of the ergonomic shovel – an idea that hit him like a shock-wave of back pain while he was shoveling dirt at his parents’ home in San Diego a couple of years ago.
The design has already netted him $12,000 in prize money from a contest at San Diego State University, where he won first place. The idea is simple: equip the shovel with an adjustable central handle that better enables a person to use the appropriate muscles when heaving a load of dirt, snow or whatever payload you please.
Walden is among the students who has gone so far as to pony up thousands of dollars for a patent. For these students, the class is really only the beginning of a journey they hope will rocket them to entrepreneurial stardom.
On Thursday, the class had its culminating event: a mock sales pitch to a group of area business leaders – Choi jokingly refers to them as a panel of “mean old men” – who capped every presentation with a flurry of tough questions.
One presenter, Brandin Cohen, was so unnerved he had to calm his nerves with a nip of courage. Producing a bottle of liquor, he poured himself a shot and gulped it down in front of the group before launching into his spiel with a business partner, Hayden Fulstone.
In truth, the stunt was part of their pitch for a debaucherous business plan: a drink meant to cure hangovers.
“Your last hangover is here,” Cohen announced, while handing out bottles of their product.
Called M2, the rehydrating drink comes in a plastic bottle and tastes a little bit like lemonade, a little bit like Gatorade, and a little bit like Emergen-C vitamin powder.
They developed the brew after a fast-growing trend brought to their attention a void in the market. From coast to coast, they say, hung-over partiers have found an underground remedy in an unlikely product: Pedialyte.
They believe most of these revelers would much prefer to cure their pounding headaches without having to make that embarrassing trip to the baby aisle. Already selling the product on a trial basis is the El Segundo Athletic Club and a cycling center called Fit On Studios in Manhattan Beach. They are presumably selling the product for its rehydration qualities. The entrepreneurs also hope area bars will get on board for the hangover purpose.
The mean old men were intrigued, but skeptical.
If Pedialyte already has the remedy, what’s to stop them from marketing the product that way?
“It’s embarrassing,” Cohen said of having to buy baby food, though he admitted that same question sometimes costs him some sleep.
Another student, Jason Silbeberg, opened his presentation for a website with a photo of Danny Devito portraying a duplicitous car salesman in the 1996 movie “Matilda.” “Let’s talk about the car salesman,” he said. “We want to get rid of them. No more car salesmen, no more haggling. ”
Silbeberg’s product, a website called NabThat, would allow users to shop for new cars in a way similar to how people currently find hotels or flights using priceline.com, where travelers find their deals by naming their price.
Silbeberg has already raised $100,000 for the product and had serious conversations with dealerships in Beverly Hills and elsewhere.
Student Nolan Simons dreamed up the idea for the tattoo cream. Called Revita Ink, it not only revitalizes the skin, but brightens the tattoo, he says. (Fun fact: 23 percent of all adult women in the United States have a tattoo, as do 19 percent of all U.S. men, according to them.) In a slide presentation, he showed photos of a woman sunbathing.
“This is a 30-year-old person, and her skin is looking beautiful,” he said, drawing unintentional chuckles for the implication that 30 is old. “The reds are popping, the greens are popping, the skin is looking young. ”
After the event, one of the “mean old men,” a very nice man named Michael Schoettle, said he enjoyed the event, but hesitated when asked if any of the products seemed viable.
“As an angel investor, I’m much more skeptical about early-stage companies, and so I think they are all very optimistic about the numbers,” said Schoettle, a member of TechCoast Angels. “It’s a much slower ramp-up than they were projecting. But there was energy and there was creativity and the ideas were original. “