Making smart money

Venom Innovations, LLC, a group of Florida A&M University business and engineering students, won second place and $30,000 in scholarships in the national Ford HBCU Business Classic.

The business plan competition took place March 16 during the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education Conference in Washington and featured the top five business plans out of entries from 119 historically black colleges and universities. The team was flown to Washington for the entire conference, March 14-17.

After Venom Innovations won the Entrepreneurship Day Challenge in the School of Business and Industry, the team learned it was chosen as one of the top five semifinalists in the Ford Motor Co. HBCU Business Classic. The students were selected to present their invention “BabyTalk.”

“We were surprised when we received the e-mail, saying that we were chosen as a semifinalist to compete in the Classic,” said Deliena Stone, an MBA Student from Miami. Stone is the CEO of the Venom Innovations team.

BabyTalk is a musical baby bottle holster that includes an MP3 player, speakers, a microphone, nightlight and other modern features, Stone said.

The team credits its adviser Denis Ridley, associate professor of production and operations management, who was instrumental in helping get their idea off the ground.

The HBCU Business Classic allows all HBCU students to put their classroom knowledge to use in a real world business plan competition. Winners are able to receive a total of $100,000 in scholarships for their team and school, according to the Ford Motor Co. Web site.

Venom Innovations received a total of $30,000 in scholarships, with $20,000 in personal scholarships and $10,000 for the University. “This was a great opportunity for us to apply what we learned in the classroom into action,” said Emerson Naylor, an MBA student from Philadelphia and the team’s chief financial officer.

The group presented BabyTalk to a distinguished panel of judges, including Dave Bing, chairman, the Bing Group; George Fraser, CEO, of FraserNet Inc; Valerie Daniels-Carter, CEO of V&J Holding; and Jamie Foster Brown, publisher of Sister2Sister Magazine.

SBI Dean Lydia McKinley-Floyd cheered the team on from the sidelines during the competition. “We hope the school goes to greater and greater heights,” McKinley-Floyd said.Stone said Venom Innovations does not include business students only but engineering students as well.

“Each member contributed their knowledge in engineering, business management and finance to create both the plan and product BabyTalk,” Stone said. “I don’t want to take all of the credit. People may think the team just included business students, but we also have students from the school of engineering in the group.”

Beside Stone and Naylor, the other team members are Charla Johnson, industrial engineering student from Dallas, director of product development; Evan Anderson, industrial engineering student from Hillsborough, N.J., director of product design; and Alvin L. Hicks II, an MBA student from Atlanta, director of operations.

According to the Ford Motor Co. Web site, the HBCU Business Classic was launched in the fall of 2004 to recognize a need in the black business community to educate and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs. HBCU students were selected because they enroll upward of 370,000 students at 119 different schools and graduate approximately one-third of all black students annually, while representing roughly three percent of the nation’s overall college population.

The other semifinalists were Afrolutions from Spelman College and Morehouse College, B.E.N.A.B. from Howard University, The Dream Group from Morehouse College and One Source Realty from Xavier University.

Naylor said all the students involved gained a lot from the experience and are preparing for another competition in April.

“We are now in preparation for the national competition that’s to be held in Atlanta,” Naylor said. “We hope to win that and go on to great things!”

The team is trying to get its invention patented through the University’s Office of Technology Transfer.