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Students Hear ZEFER Co-Founder at $50K Kickoff

By Matthew Palmer

Students filled 10-250 yesterday to launch this year’s MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition, hoping to jump-start their start-up businesses and win their share of $50,000.

In the annual $50K Competition, contestants start with an idea and refine it into a business plan. During the fall, students will form teams and take part in “team-building dinners” and panel discussions. They will present their start-up ideas in November for the $1K Warm-Up Competition. Ten winners will be chosen from a variety of categories and awarded $100 each.

After more workshops, the winners of the $50K Competition will be announced June 3 in Kresge Auditorium.

Last year, 150 projects were submitted. Seth Taylor MBA ’97 took home the top prize of $30,000 for his team’s MolecularWare, which manages information for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.

Two runners-up each won $10,000: Crosskate, an off-road in-line roller skate company, and Just-in-Zyme, which developed chemical processes for crops.

ZEFER’s Tjan gives advice

Entrepreneur Anthony Tjan gave this year’s keynote speech. Tjan, who was a student at Harvard Business School when he co-founded ZEFER, is currently an executive vice-president of the Internet consulting firm.

The key to ZEFER’s success, Tjan said, was building the right team.

“Marry seasoned experience and entrepreneurial enthusiasm” he told the audience. “Create a vision and realize it.”

Despite several obstacles, Tjan said his “pride of ownership” was what kept him going. It was why he turned down a chance to sell ZEFER for $20 million.

Students looking forward to 50K

At the Kickoff, students picked up entry forms and learned how they could enter the contest.

Peter O. Orondo G said he planned to enter the contest. “It’s exciting. It’s good training for starting my own business,” he said. Although he said he didn’t have an idea for his project yet, he is considering using his experience in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

Sloan business student Rusty Petree G said the contest would be good for his start-up. “You want exposure,” he said. “It’s very high profile.”

Winning the $50K Competition helps to advertise companies to potential investors. Contestants have used their entries to start nearly 40 companies in recent years. Additionally, prize money aids the young companies.