Three entrepreneurs join forces to win international business competition
(From left: Mark Feuerborn, Connor England, Kennedy White)
Kennedy White, bba ’16, Connor England, senior business major, and Mark Feuerborn, junior mass media major, sat in the School of Business conference room on May 19, 2016, and joined people from all over the world via Skype.
The trio was eagerly awaiting the results of the Network of International Business Schools Worldwide Business Plan Competition. They were not only representing Washburn University as one of the three schools in the finals, but they were also representing the United States against schools in Finland and Ireland.
“The judges talked a lot about the three finalists before finally announcing that D18 was the winner,” White said. “It was just shocking and so many memories flooded back to me about getting the first client, experiencing failure, and it was just unbelievable to have gotten to that point.”
D18 was just an idea in the summer of 2014. A 20-year-old White consulted Rick LeJuerrne, lecturer, School of Business, in the Washburn University Small Business Development Center on some business ideas, a free service for Washburn students. LeJuerrne brought up the Consumed in Production Tax Exemption that many small businesses in the area were not taking advantage of to reduce their taxes. Not knowing much about energy efficiency or tax law, White spent his entire summer consulting with Westar Energy and the Kansas Department of Revenue about the tax exemption.
Armed with an idea to help businesses, LeJuerrne connected him with a local business, Iwig Dairy, to complete his first energy study. He identified areas where the company could be saving money through the tax exemption, submitted the paperwork and was able to not only get the company a refund but also future savings. White earned a portion of the refund and his customers received the rest, plus future savings. So far, he’s saved eight business locations in northeast Kansas approximately $17,000.
While taking classes, White met many other entrepreneurial-minded students through Washburn’s entrepreneur and innovation program. England, who won Washburn’s first business plan competition in spring 2016 with his business, Portfolio, that provides a better outlet for artists to sell their work, and Feuerborn, who creates and sells custom cigar box guitars, were two that stood out.
All three Washburn students had received funding for their business ideas through the Student Business Accelerator Fund, and all three rushed to join forces in March 2016 when they heard about the NIBS competition. After seeing White’s early success with D18, England said they decided the company would be a good fit for the climate, because internationally, there is a big push for energy conservation. They proceeded with putting together a pitch video and strong business plan and submitted it.
“We were competing against 14 countries throughout Europe and Asia,” Feuerborn said. “International business is a whole new level, so we knew we were playing with the big boys.”
After becoming one of three finalists, the students put together an in-depth video about the business to be presented to an audience of international business professionals. The three also completed a live question-and-answer session about their business plan.
“We worked with professors on the question and answer session, so we were well prepared,” England said. “We had confidence in our defense of the business. This wasn’t a class project, it was something we were truly passionate about, and I think that stood out.”
Feuerborn said getting the news they received first place was incredible and he was elated that the many hours and weeks of work had paid off, and all three students credited many business school professors including David Price, associate professor, marketing, and Dmitri Nizovtsev, professor, economics and international studies, for helping them through the process. The team received a cash reward to further the business plan, and they hope to not only rebrand D18 in the future but to continue making it a viable business and venture out on their own ideas as well.
“Bringing creativity to life at this age creates so much potential about where a business could go,” Feuerborn said. “There are so many resources available at this university, that if you are willing to do the groundwork, you can confidently know that it will go somewhere thanks to Washburn.”