Best business plans picked in College of Ag Sciences student contest

November 18, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Three winning student teams recently were selected and awarded $7,000 in a business-plan competition held by Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. The college has designated entrepreneurship as one of its strategic priorities.

Eighteen teams comprised mostly of Ag Sciences students enrolled in the contest, named Ag Business Springboard 2011. The first-place team, Baobob Processor PSU, received a check for $5,000. The team consisted of Immunology and Infectious Disease major Imran Hussain and Environmental Resource Management major Tyler Yost from the College of Agricultural Sciences, and Matt Zellers (team leader), Leigh Lesnick and Alyssa Joslin from the College of Engineering.

The winning plan would create a business to develop an affordable means to process baobab plants into flour and nutrient-rich oil.

Two teams tied for second place and each will receive a check for $1,000:

-- The BioSpin Fiber Technologies team wrote a plan for a business that would develop a biological nano-fiber fabric from simple starch. Team members were Food Science major and team leader Lingyan Kong from the College of Agricultural Sciences, Xiang Guo from the College of Engineering and Cindy Lam from the Smeal College of Business.

-- The True Vine Farms team wrote a plan to create a nonprofit organization that would facilitate on-farm experiences for children in distressed home environments. Team members were team leader Melissa Miller and Amy Hinkle, both Horticulture majors in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

In addition to the monetary prizes, the three winning teams are entitled to receive an introduction to the "Lion Launchpad" for start-up companies, have access to mentoring resources and benefit from additional networking resources within the university's entrepreneurial community.

The Ag Business Springboard Competition was open to all students at Penn State. Teams, which registered in mid-September, consisted of two to five students, at least one of whom was required to be enrolled in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Teams developed and pitched innovative business plans addressing a need in the agricultural sciences.

A panel of judges selected the most compelling business plans. "In their business plan, students addressed issues such as competitive due diligence, marketing, financial projections and other aspects to make a well-structured argument for their business idea," said Mark Gagnon, visiting assistant professor of sustainable entrepreneurship, who is entrepreneurship coordinator for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"The Ag Business Springboard 2011 Competition was sponsored by Earl and Kay Harbaugh, whose generous support also is used to fund a variety of entrepreneurial activities at Penn State."

Gagnon cited several benefits students received from participating in the business-plan competition. "They strengthened their resumes -- employers seek students who have competitive, 'real-world' experiences," he said. "And they can take their ideas to the next level and start a company -- winners will have an opportunity to connect with potential investors, build their networks and obtain valuable guidance.

Gagnon noted that participating students learned what it takes to pitch a business idea and developed valuable career-building skills. "Several of the teams that have entered the competition continue to explore their next steps for commercialization," he said.

The business plans developed by teams in the Ag Business Springboard Competition were varied and innovative, addressing needs in food security, renewable energy and agricultural employee health.

For more information, contact Mark Gagnon at 814-867-3714 or

  • The team that submitted the best business plan: (From left) Alyssa Joslin, Leigh Lesnick, Imran Hussain, Matt Zellers and Tyler Yost. Click on the image above for a larger version.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated November 21, 2011