Student idea to save money on textbooks wins FAU startup competition
Release Date: Apr 16, 2012
SwitchMyBooks.com started as a way to cut down on the $2,500 that Jose Christiansen and Dave Fredericks spend on college textbooks each year.
On Friday, it became their ticket to owning a growing business.
The two Florida Atlantic University students, with the help of Fredericks' dad, won first prize in FAU's fourth annual business plan competition. They beat out more than more than 200 applicants for the top prize of $94,000 in cash and services.
"Now we have the resources available to really take this idea forward," said Mark Fredericks, chief executive of SwitchMyBooks.com. He also runs an accounting software business in Boca Raton.
SwitchMyBooks.com allows students to sell their used textbooks by connecting with other students who need them.
"We knew we had a great idea," said Fredericks. "We're following the Facebook model: a website for one university and then we can duplicate it for every university in the country."
Competition judge Frances Fytton said he liked the business idea because "it's simple and a well-defined market."
Nine finalists gave pitched their business plans to judges on Friday, trying to sell them on their concepts, growth plans and exit strategies – how they would eventually sell the business.
The products and services were wide ranging: a children's carbonated juice drink from a Delray Beach real estate agent, software for small businesses from two Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix Systems employees, and a pre-cancerous skin treatment that involved several of FAU's own faculty and students.
The judges included area entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers and a winner on ABC-TV's "Shark Tank." They said they were impressed by the level of business plans in this year's competition.
"I'd invest in a couple of them," said Dominique Barteet, a Palm Beach Gardens pharmacist who successfully pitched her shoe with an interchangeable top on the last season of "Shark Tank." Her product is now sold in 80 countries.
Second prize, worth $16,000, in the entrepreneur category went to Nathan Aleskovsky, an architecture graduate who developed ShowCode, which provides real-time building code analysis for computer-generated models.
Third prize, worth $6,000, went to Bimotics, a technology startup that provides software solutions for small businesses. The partners are Areeya Lila and Roberto Landrau, who work for Citrix.
"I have an entrepreneurial spirit," Lila said. The partners said they believe Citrix, which was built by local entrepreneur Ed Iacobucci, would support their efforts – and might be a potential buyer for their company.
Passion for the business, and not giving up, are keys to being an entrepreneur, said Manual Medina, founder of Terremark Worldwide, who spoke to the group on Friday.
"You really have to want it," he told the competitors.