NiuPuiao wins Business Plan Challenge

NiuPuiao accepts a $15,000 check to develop a ticketing platform in Asia.--Photo courtesy of Wendy Coakley
NiuPuiao accepts a $15,000 check to develop a ticketing platform in Asia.–Photo courtesy of Wendy Coakley

The fourth annual Business Plan Competition concluded on March 1 with the presentation of final project proposals from NiuPuiao, Memoir, Startup Launchpad and Sherp. The winning team, NiuPuiao, will receive $15,000 in seed funding to work on its venture over a 10-week period this summer. The College also awarded $5000 to Memoir, the runner up team.

Lever, a non-profit incubator run by Jeffrey Thomas, lead organizer of Entrepreneurship@Williams, will also provide the NiuPuiao and Memoir teams with free office space, housing and mentoring during the summer. Students are required to work in Williamstown or North Adams.

Shannon Hsu ’15, Kenneth Park ’17, Batjin Boldbat ’15, David Moon ’16, Ryan Kwon ’17, Joseph Oh ’18, Kevin Chen ’15 and Fan Zhang ’17 worked on the NiuPuiao project.

According to the group’s executive summary, in Asia, scalpers often buy out popular live entertainment events within minutes and sell tickets for higher prices. Although there are well-established Western ticketing platforms to prevent scalping, NiuPuiao has identified that there is no comparable system in Asian countries.

“We thought there was real opportunity in Asia to transform ticketing, starting with scalping prevention, reliable technology and an attention to UI/UX design,” Hsu said. “Our mission is to put users first and give fans a pleasurable ticket-buying experience and opportunities to engage with their favorite artists.”

The product is “a hybrid between Eventbrite and Ticketfly,” Hsu said.

This summer, the team plans to raise funding for the project, launch the platform in Mongolia and beta test it.

“We already have partnerships with Mongolian popstars and entertainment companies and we’ll be selling all of their web and mobile tickets,” Hsu said.

Peter Cihon ’16, Ethan Jacobs ’16 and Michael Yi ’16 proposed Memoir, “the secure photo album for the digital age.”

Memoir is a social photography application for phones. “With Memoir users can cryptographically embed information into photos and take them anywhere on the Internet without worrying about compromising their privacy,” Cihon said.

Users have the option of attaching a story to the image file. The saved image will include not only the data, time and location, but also the user’s chosen story. The user can then share this file on social media sites, with the ability to control how much information is revealed to friends. This summer, the team will develop their app for iOS, which they plan to launch in September.

The four groups presented to the judges on March 1, after submitting a final written proposal on Feb. 23. Will Schmidt ’77, Laure Thomsen ’79 and Jeff Lipp ’92 sat on the panel. These meetings were formatted as Q-and-A sessions with an initial 10-minute talk by a representative from each group.

Students registered by late November and started drafting plans in early January. According to Thomas, 16 teams entered the initial competition. After a series of workshops and mentoring sessions, the judges announced the finalists on Feb. 4. In the final month, the four remaining teams worked with mentors to finalize a business plan.

The other finalists included Ellen Coombe ’17 and Ryan Barry ’15, who worked on Startup Launchpad and Miarou Guan ’17, Dvivid Trivedi ’17 and Paul Baird-Smith ’17 who worked on Sherp.

Entrepreneurs@Williams “coordinates several student-oriented activities aimed at fostering entrepreneurship,” according to the College’s website. Throughout the course of the year, the program organizes a number of events including Entrapalooza, a weekend featuring entrepreneurial alumni panels and discussions; the Business Plan Challenge and several Winter Study course offerings.

Entrepreneurs@Williams and the Career Center first started the competition in 2012. Last year, the winning team, consisting of Ayodele Ekhator ’15, Michael Madding ’15, Timothy Marchese ’15, Philip McGovern ’15 and Aaron Taylor ’16, designed Peck, a social calendar application for phones.

During last year’s competition, there was only one female student in the final round. This year, there were three women and two presented the project proposal on behalf of their groups.

“This year we [the Business Plan Challenge Advisory Council] worked hard to engage more women students,” Thomas said. Dawn Dellea and John Noble, members of the Career Center; Russ Howard ’84; Wendy Coakley ’85; Associate Professor of Computer Science Brent Heeringa and Thomas constitute the council.

As part of this effort, the Career Center hosted an alumnae entrepreneurs panel in October and also organized a talk featuring Miriam Naficy ’91, CEO of Minted.com.

“By highlighting the careers of alumnae entrepreneurs, our goal was to help women students better understand what entrepreneurship was about and to imagine themselves as entrepreneurs,” Thomas added.