FALL 2008 VOL. 9 NO. 2

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Freshman Phenom Wins Big

The Smith School’s annual Cupid’s Cup business plan competition is a daunting prospect for anyone, let alone an 18-year-old kid. But undergraduate Kevin Kirk was up for the challenge.

Unlike most guys his age, Kirk has a penchant for purses. At 16, bored with watching his younger sister play lacrosse every weekend, Kirk began selling handmade hemp jewelry at his sister’s tournaments, turning a $300 profit on the average weekend. As his business flourished, Kirk expanded his horizons to popular tropical-print purses, buying them wholesale on eBay and marking them up 500 percent. After selling more than 100 purses in one weekend, he decided to focus on beefing up his purse lines. During a family vacation in Hawaii, Kirk found a genuine Hawaiian-print reversible bag at a rock-bottom price. He ordered several prints, shipped them home to Maryland, and immediately sold out of them at his next event. And all this before he even entered college.

Now a seasoned business owner interested in growing his empire, Kirk came to the Smith School because of the resources offered by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Armed with a $40,000 entrepreneurial scholarship from Monster.com founder Andrew J. McKelvey, Kirk dove head-first into his freshman year.

Recognizing his self-starting talents, Kirk’s advisors at the Dingman Center drew his attention to their signature event: the Cupid’s Cup Competition, sponsored by Kevin Plank ’96, founder of Under Armour and one of Kirk’s personal heroes. Plank, who is passionate about developing and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs, funded Cupid’s Cup and serves as one of its judges as a way to showcase the university’s rising entrepreneurs. The competition awards generous cash prizes to fledgling businesses based on a seven-minute pitch, rewarding vision and enthusiasm with resources and professional expertise. The 2008 Cupid’s Cup, which featured the inaugural BB&T Business Invitational, was a standing-room-only event — a high-pressure, high-excitement day for Kirk and his fellow competitors.

Kirk was the youngest contender to ever throw his hat in the ring. With the help of Asher Epstein, managing director of the Dingman Center, and Dingman Center director of venture investments and social entrepreneurship Melissa Carrier, Kirk began a marathon of preparation. Constantly encouraging him to “think bigger,” Carrier and Epstein helped Kirk develop the idea of a chain of shopping mall kiosks, and even helped negotiate a trial lease for him at the Westfield mall in Annapolis, Md. The trial run was a resounding success, bringing in just under $10,000 in 16 days.

Eventually Kirk came up with an ambitious plan to present to the judges: a $100 million plan for 336 kiosk locations in the most-trafficked malls of the country with a supporting Web site.

When zero hour arrived, Kirk was the first to take the stage in front of the packed auditorium. He kept the crowd laughing and the judges intrigued. Pointed questions were given pointed answers during the few minutes following his presentation.

And how did it all work out? Well, Kirk didn’t win Cupid’s Cup — that honor went to Anaptyx, an innovative community Wi-Fi service provider. But he did come away with the $5,000 People’s Choice award for being the audience favorite. And Plank offered him a summer internship, which he gladly accepted. A happy ending — or more accurately, a happy beginning to an undergraduate entrepreneur’s Smith career.

2008 Cupid’s Cup Winners

First Place – Jonathon Rust, Anaptyx

Second Place – Benjamin Solof and Steven Grella, Maverick Development

Cupid’s Cup Business Competition People’s Choice Award – Kevin Kirk, A Slice of Paradise

BB&T Business Invitational Best Portfolio Company – Todd Wilson, Baby Fans

BB&T Business Invitational Best Student Business – Cherry Kwunyeun, Blumpari

JONATHAN RUST, WINNER OF THE 2008 CUPID'S CUP, AND KEVIN PLANK '96

BB&T Business Invitational Debuts at Cupid’s Cup

A buzz-worthy prelude to the 2008 Cupid’s Cup Competition, the inaugural BB&T Business Invitational gave Dingman-incubated ventures the ability to showcase their companies to the university community and compete for a $2,000 check.

Featuring such companies as CMART, and winners Blumpari (Best Student Company) and Baby Fans (Best Portfolio Company), the invitational was clearly a project BB&T regional president and Smith Board of Visitors member Dontá Wilson, MBA ’05, takes pride in. “BB&T is proud of its alliance with the Smith School, and to reward entrepreneurship and great ideas. The invitational’s goal of supporting entrepreneurs aligns perfectly with BB&T’s mission of helping them achieve economic success and financial security,” says Wilson.

Representing BB&T at the invitational was Bill Toomey, an area executive and senior vice president whose branch worked with Dan Shuman, MBA ’02, and Brad Bondruff ’00, MS ’02, CEO and President, respectively, of CMART, to give them the loan that would allow them to purchase their company.

Shuman, whose business is thriving under new management, says, “BB&T stood unmatched in their ability to quickly grasp the entrepreneurial challenges CMART faces. Our relationship extends much further than simply our source of capital.”

Clearly, the relationship held with these two prosperous local businesses is a credit to the Smith community. And with the success of the Invitational, expectations for next year’s event are already set high.

  SMITH BUSINESS Magazine

Copyright 2008 Robert H. Smith School of Business