North Texas Daily

Students win $30K, grand prize in business venture competition

Students win $30K, grand prize in business venture competition

November 23
01:47 2011

Samantha Badgen / Staff Writer

Seven of UNT’s youngest students nabbed first place and $30,000 Friday, winning UNT’s annual Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship New Ventures Creation Contest.

Students Stephanie Nguyen, David Chi, JJ Echaniz, Shannon Lu, Mariko Nakamura, Mitchell Powell and Brian Ng, all teenagers attending UNT’s Texas Academy of Math and Science, beat out dozens of competing teams in the months-long contest, which requires applicants to create an innovative business model, with their idea for an Internet-based nonprofit tutoring service.

Their company, Forward Tutoring, requires students to pay for tutoring services with volunteer hours rather than cash.

“Instead of paying $20 or $50 an hour for tutoring, they’re going to have to fulfill volunteer hours to pay for the tutoring,” said Stephanie Nguyen, who came up with the idea after seeing her sister struggle in school, unable to find affordable, convenient tutoring.

Students using the service get free credits to start with, Nguyen said, but are then required to earn tutoring sessions by accumulating volunteer hours.

“Over the summer, my sister wanted to take violin lessons, but that plus tutoring was all very expensive,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of money, but I had a lot of volunteer hours, and I wanted to come up with a way to use those in a new way.”

Nguyen said the group plans to use the $30,000 prize on website development and scholarship creation.

Nguyen said the idea came to her before she knew about the contest, which she found out about through the director of the Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship, Tony Mendez, whom she met at a business club meeting.

“I went to see him the next day to tell him my idea, and he loved it,” she said. “He knows firsthand how expensive tutoring can be if you want good quality.”

Following her meeting with Mendez, the team spent more than a year developing the idea, acquiring nonprofit status and seeking outside funding.

“The New Venture Creation Contest was just a way of getting it done,” said Chi, who was in charge of administration and management on the project. “We had the idea and knew how we wanted to put it together; it was just a matter of getting the resources to get there.”

Nguyen said she networked intensively to get the project rolling, traveling to regional business conferences to market the idea.

“Big companies are giving the project a part of their education grants so that we can give them scholarships,” Nguyen said.

Dallas-based technology company Texas Instruments gave Forward Tutoring $7,000 for  scholarships students can apply to receive. Nguyen said the scholarships serve as an incentive for students to serve as volunteer tutors for the organization. She said tutors use the volunteer hours they acquire to apply for the scholarships.

The team also partnered with the UNT Computer Science Department, whose director David Keathly, instituted a program in which students get course credit for working on the website’s development.

“It really helped us a lot,” Nguyen said. “It cut down on a lot of the cost involved with creating the site.”

As of now, the project is undergoing data testing, and has several dozen student users already lined up, Nguyen said.

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