UNCP business team took on the world in a new product business plan competition


By any standard, UNC Pembroke business students Livan Nyangaresi, Sita Epps, Lashaude James, Chris Evans and Dezzarayi Powell are a great team, and business is a team sport.

When they did not qualify for the final round of this spring’s international business plan competition, the team responded like legendary football coach Vince Lombardi would have: “We didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time.”

A late start and a couple of snow days didn’t help their case, which was to invent a new product and sell it to investors. The team is convinced, however, that they had a winning idea and the talent to make it happen. They also agreed the project was an incredible learning experience.

It was a diverse group with two international business majors, two marketing majors and one accounting major. Powell played football at UNCP. Nyangaresi was born in Kenya. Epps has a second major in sociology. Powell recently returned from South Korea where she studied for a semester at Nayang University.

Dr. Chris Ziemnowicz, who teachers international business, set the ball in motion to enter the Network of International Business Schools (NIBS) and helped recruit the team. Working with the Magellan Exchange, which offers students an opportunity to study abroad, NIBS is an accrediting body that also organizes competitions among its member schools around the globe.

“The students volunteered in a trailblazing endeavor for UNCP that went beyond any required classroom and coursework,” Dr. Ziemnowicz said. “They were responsible for everything. With no credit hours or grades, their only benefits included the experience, team management skills, business idea and plan development, as well as some pizza and snacks.”

In an interview, the team showed its pride, enthusiasm, talent and team spirit. They finished each other’s sentences and thoughts as they explained their business idea.

“It’s an ‘app’ for smart phones that hooks you up with people, places and things to do while you are out of town on business or at a conference and have a little extra time,” Evans said. “It combines the best travel apps that search for hotels, airline tickets and restaurants.”

“It maps locations and puts together your travel itinerary too,” said Powell.

“When you go to a conference, there is always a block of free time,” James said. “This is how you can make the most of it.”

“We added a social networking feature, so you can meet up with people of similar interests,” Epps said.

“Say you like to play golf…” James said.

“If this puts you together with people of similar interests; you might even get a job interview,” Powell said.

“We call it I-10, sort of like an interstate for travel,” Nyangaresi said.

“It’s a play on words for ‘itinerary,’” Epps said.

The group put together a detailed business plan on paper and submitted it along with a five-minute video. They got advice from business professors Drs. Ziemnowicz, Richard Kang and Jack Spillan, who “stayed with us the whole time,” James said.

“We literally did it in a week working some nights until one a.m.,” Epps said. “I gave out, and they were still working on Friday night before the Saturday deadline.

“We worked all night Friday, and I did the video editing Saturday morning before submitting,” Evans said.

“We’d have gone to (the finals in) Finland, if we had started in September,” Evans said.

“The snow really hurt too,” Powell said.

“We should have involved broadcasting students to help with the video,” James said. “We need to reach out to the rest of the university to make it really professional.”

All in all, the team believes it was a valuable learning experience. Among other things, they learned to use their team skills and how to work under deadline pressure while completing a complex task. They also learned some things they had not counted on.

“I learned how to edit video,” Evans laughed. “I put the video together on my laptop.”

 “Just to compete was a good experience, and we accomplished that mission in the end,” James said. “We learned our faculty really care too.”

“This business school is solid,” Epps said. “I really love the dedication of this here.”

And like true competitors, Nyangaresi and his mates left the field of battle with heads held high. “I hope to continue with this idea,” he said.

“It’s a great idea,” James said.

“And customizable to the customers interests,” Epps said.

This was UNCP first NIBS competitions, and this team won’t get another shot at the international business plan challenge. They will pass on what they learned to the next team.

“I’d like to see UNCP win it,” James said. “It’s an important competition. This was a start.”

Dr. Ziemnowicz said “even without capturing this year’s competition, these students have won by gaining experience that could not be replicated in a regular classroom. These qualities will bring them benefits during their careers.”

As Vince Lombardi stated, “The spirit, the will to win and the will to excel - these are the things what will endure and these are the qualities that are so much more important than any of the events themselves.”