RIT’s Imagine Soap team takes 1st place in state business plan competition

Team wins social/nonprofit category; $10,000 prize

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Graduate student Brendan Gordon, right, receives the first place award in the social/nonprofit category at the New York Business Plan Competition from Peter Wohl, chief performance and innovation officer at SEFCU, an Albany-based credit union.

A team from Rochester Institute of Technology took first place in the social/nonprofit category at the New York Business Plan Competition in Albany.

Imagine Soap, led by Brendan Gordon, an MFA student in industrial design from New Orleans, with teammates Jonathan Morris-Eppolito, an MBA student from Skaneateles, N.Y., and Rahul Gadre, a graduate student in network security and systems administration from Badlapur, India, took home $10,000 for winning its category. Their business plan empowers entrepreneurs in the world’s poorest areas, using local waste resources to produce and sell soap at affordable, below-market prices, creating jobs while reducing hygiene-related illness.

“RIT has great strengths in sustainability, design and social entrepreneurship,” said Richard DeMartino, endowed chair and director of the Simone Center for Student Innovation and Entrepreneurship and associate professor in RIT’s Saunders College of Business. “Brendan and the Imagine Soap team are visionary students using their diverse skills to help individuals in developing countries. We are very proud of the Imagine Soap team for showing how a social venture can be a viable commercial concept.”

Gordon said his team was thrilled with the win.

“Having witnessed the highly polished ideas and presentations of so many other teams, winning first in the nonprofits category came as somewhat of a shock,” Gordon said. “The win could not have come at a better time, as it will fund a necessary research trip to Haiti in June and begin chipping away at our goal of reaching $70,000 for a pilot project in fall 2014. In the grander scheme, our win in Albany is the first of many steps in validating our idea and will better position the company in soliciting the confidence and philanthropic support of future investors.”

The collegiate contest, hosted by the State of New York College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE), University at Albany’s School of Business and Syracuse University, was held April 25 at CNSE Albany’s Nanotech Complex. Imagine Soap advanced to the state competition by winning its category in the Finger Lakes Regional Competition earlier this month.

Since 2010, more than 570 student teams from almost 60 of New York’s colleges and universities have pitched their ideas and ventures at the NYBPC. The winners are selected each year by esteemed judges, including venture capitalists, angel investors, investment bankers, other sophisticated public and private investors and seasoned entrepreneurs.