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Wharton Business Plan Competition semifinalist Erica Sokol founded StudentsCare, an organization that matches undergraduate volunteers with long-term pediatric cancer patients.

Photo: Courtesy of Erica Sokol

From pediatric cancer patient care to bachelorette party planning, business ventures of all kinds can compete for over $30,000 in the Wharton Business Plan Competition.

Last Thursday, the WBPC announced the 25 semifinalists that will move onto the next round and have a chance at winning large cash prizes and valuable legal and financial services for their business ventures.

Founded by the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club in 1998 and currently run by Wharton Entrepreneurship, the WBPC has seen winners that have started diverse businesses like Black Box Denim, a customized jeans maker and Slidejoy, an Android app that pays users to view ads when they unlock their smartphone.

Responsible for running most of the competition is a student management committee, composed of first year MBA students along with two Wharton seniors and one Wharton junior. Karen Wong, 2010 College graduate and now first year MBA and law school student, is one of the co-chairs of the competition.

To win, a business idea has to be both innovative and executable.

“In order to make your business successful, you really need to think about how you’re going to execute — how the customer is going to experience it, if you need suppliers, where are you going to get them,” Wong said. “The more you think about [these things] the more you will be successful.”

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Photo By Courtesy of Tisha Vaidya

WBPC semifinalists Tisha Vaidya (left) and Lauren Raouf (right) started My Best Friend’s Weekend, a custom bachelorette party planning service.

This year’s first round saw 175 diverse teams submit applications for review by a panel of 300 judges, who are mostly alumni. Among the 25 semifinalists were KidFoods, StudentsCare and My Best Friend’s Weekend.

Led by first year MBA students Neil Vangala and Rishi Reddy, KidFoods is a meal delivery service that provides healthy and affordable meals for children. Before coming to Wharton, Vangala worked in private equity, investing in entrepreneurs, and Reddy founded a healthcare technology company. The two met at Wharton and discovered a shared passion for nutrition.

“[Our service] provides a meal kit that gives people four lunches and four snacks per week at an affordable price point,” Vangala said. “The meals are 98 percent done with five minute prep — we want the customers to really engage with what they’re giving their kids. The reason it’s only five minutes is because we want it to be convenient.”

“There are a ton of [meal] delivery services, but no one has tapped the kids market. We’re not trying to do things like kale salads; we’re trying to do healthy versions of things kids things would want,” Reddy added.

Although KidFoods has yet to launch, their research is conversational-level and survey-based so far. Still, Reddy agreed with Wong that the competition has been “a great way for us to formalize our thought process in a structured format.”

Other competing businesses have already taken off, such as the non-profit organization StudentsCare. Second year School of Social Policy & Practice student Erica Sokol started the Hospital Buddy program while a student at the University of Miami, which became StudentsCare one year ago.

The organization matches undergraduate volunteers with long-term pediatric cancer patients, concurrently providing friendship and support for the patients and opportunities for students to gain experience in the hospital environment.

Even though her business is already operational, Sokol said that participating in the competition is a good experience. “The feedback from the judges is invaluable. Even from the first round, it’s been great to hear from these professionals. They each have a unique perspective.”

The substantial cash prizes were also a draw to participate. “I think it would be amazing to have that kind of funding — to initiate new programs and develop new chapters.” Sokol added that she hopes to recruit Penn students and start a chapter in Philadelphia.

Another currently operational venture in the hospitality industry has nothing to do with patient care. My Best Friend’s Weekend is a custom bachelorette party planning service that offers itineraries, research, booking and planning services. The company was co-founded by second year MBA students Tisha Vaidya and Lauren Raouf and has planned 35 bachelorette parties across 20 cities in the United States and Canada since its launch last June.

“We are saying that your time is worth more to you than planning a bachelorette party,” Vaidya said. “We can do it more quickly and efficiently.”

Like Sokol, Vaidya emphasized that the WBPC provides an opportunity for “super critical feedback,” since the judges have “no vested interest in your company.”

She also emphasized the importance of the competition from a marketing standpoint, stating that if they won any of the cash prizes, they would put the money back into advertising.

All semifinalists will submit their business plans by Feb. 27 and will pitch to the judging panel on March 20. Eight teams will move on to compete for the prizes at the Venture Finals round, which will be held on April 30.

This article was edited to clarify that the Wharton Business Plan Competition is currently run by Wharton Entrepreneurship.

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