Business Plan Competition: Sports Bra Technology Deemed Most Ready for Market

2010 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition announces winners

When former competitive gymnast Shannon Harlow would work out, she didn't like everything she saw in the mirrors at the gym. Specifically, the way that sports bras flattened her chest and showed unsightly seams.

"Most sports bras available on the market do just one thing," says Harlow, who will earn her MBA from Georgia Tech this spring. "To put it bluntly, they squash."

Her solution, the curve-enhancing BeBuxom Bra, won the Most Commercializable Award in the March 12 finals of the 2010 Georgia Tech Business Plan Competition. Worth $35,000 in legal, financial, and other services, this honor goes to the team deemed by judges to be most ready to enter the marketplace.

Shannon developed the technology and plan for the company Belle Curves with fellow students in the Evening MBA Program: Robert Halley, Grace Powers, Richard Powers (MBA 2008), and Fran Ruskin.

Organized by Georgia Tech's Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship, the Business Plan Competition is open to students in all of Georgia Tech's academic programs (graduate and undergraduate) as well as recent alumni. It includes multiple award categories.

The Belle Curves team also won the Best Elevator Pitch prize ($500), which recognizes the company that does the best job explaining its concept in a one-minute oral presentation – representing the limited amount of time entrepreneurs might have to sell a concept to potential investors they encounter.

Belle Curves team members say they are serious about taking their product to market, and they hope to raise $200,000 to help get it there by 2011. All the team members, four of whom are still earning their MBA at night, plan on keeping their day jobs as they develop the company, which they eventually hope to sell to a major corporation.

Harlow's idea for a more flattering sports bra for women with smaller cup sizes (AAA-B) took shape after realizing that Robert Halley, her seatmate in the Evening MBA New Product Development class, is vice president of research and development at American Breast Care, a manufacturer of bras and other products for women who've had mastectomies.

What separates BeBuxom from other sports bras is its design, Harlow says. Its silicone inserts are held in special pockets instead of being worn directly against a wearer's skin where they might shift or feel irritating. "We use a lightweight silicone with thin edges so that it shapes well to the body with no unsightly lines," explains team member Grace Powers.

Harlow adds: "We knew we were onto something when many of the members of the focus group who tested the product didn't want to return the bras back to us. They begged us to keep them."

First Place

In addition to the Most Commercializable Award for the team most ready for market, the Business Plan Competition also awarded First, Second and Third Place winners in the overall competition.

The First Place honor ($10,000) went to AlpZhi, which has developed an innovative manufacturing process for micro-lenses. This process facilitates an improvement in the design flexibility of micro-lenses and the devices that incorporate them, including digital cameras, cell phones, LCD computer screens, and fiber-optic equipment.

In addition to the first prize, AlpZhi also won the $10,000 Innovators Award, which recognizes a potentially disruptive technology. AlpZhi's technology will enable creation of such advanced products as 3D TVs, flexible displays, compact bio-sensors, and high-efficiency solar panels.

The team includes Amit S. Jariwala, a PhD student in mechanical engineering; Brian Baum, an Emory law student; Greg Sheridan, an MBA student, and Fei Ding, a post-doctoral fellow in mechanical engineering. Jariwala, Baum, and Sheridan are part of the the TI:GER® program, a collaboration between Georgia Tech and Emory Law School that brings together science and engineering PhD, MBA, and law students to work on commercializing technologies.

Jariwala, who is working on the AlpZhi micro-fabrication technology for his PhD, explained that it "allows for manufacturing eight times faster and one-sixth the current cost of competing technologies, eventually leading to faster market entry of next generation imaging devices."

AlpZhi employs a computer-controlled system involving the addition of photosensitive resins to create lenses of precise dimensions. However, instead of adding material like AlpZhi, current competing technologies employ more expensive subtractive processes involving etching and the use of hard tools to achieve the desired lens structure. "This additive fabrication approach leads to a better quality lens," says Jariwala, who hopes to the have the company's first generation micro-lens products on the market by 2011.

Ideas to SERVE

Running parallel to the Business Plan Competition was Georgia Tech's Ideas to SERVE (Socially and Environmentally Responsible Value Enhancement) Competition, for early-stage business concepts that could help solve social issues or sustain the environment.

In finals held March 10, the Ideas to SERVE Social Solution track winner ($1,250) was One Motion Syringe. Improving upon the current syringe design, its technology provides a shorter training period for healthcare workers learning to use syringes and a better ergonomic experience. The ease-of-use of these syringes could help facilitate the dissemination of vaccines in Third World countries.

The Ideas to SERVE Environmental Solutions track winner ($1,250) was SecondWind.  It proposes leveraging high-speed roadways to generate wind-driven electric power. Small wind turbines, embedded in roadside barriers, would harness the current from passing traffic in industrialized nations.

Judges for the multiple awards in the Business Plan Competition and its sister Ideas to SERVE Competition included numerous leaders in the corporate, venture capital, technology transfer, legal, and academic communities.

Sponsors of the Business Plan Competition were ILE, Georgia Tech College of Management, GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, Advanced Technology Development Center, Executive Entrepreneurs Society, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, InterfaceFLOR, Hi Tech Partners, Fish & Richardson, Gray Ghost Ventures, HLB Gross Collins PC, and Bondurant Mixon & Elmore LLP.

Ideas to SERVE sponsors included ILE, Georgia Tech College of Management, MaRC Sustainable Design & Manufacturing, Tedd Munchak Chair in Entrepreneurship at Georgia Tech, Tech's Brook Byers Institute for Sustainable Systems, and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation Speaker Series.

The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of the world's premier research universities. Ranked seventh among U.S. News & World Report's top public universities and the eighth best engineering and information technology university in the world by Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities, Georgia Tech’s more than 20,000 students are enrolled in its Colleges of Architecture, Computing, Engineering, Liberal Arts, Management and Sciences. Tech is among the nation's top producers of women and minority engineers. The Institute offers research opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students and is home to more than 100 interdisciplinary units plus the Georgia Tech Research Institute.