Queen’s snags second at QEC

Harvard-based team wins worldwide entrepreneurial competition

Jonathan Marks, far left, and Alex Wirth, far right, won first place with their plan for Quorum.
Jonathan Marks, far left, and Alex Wirth, far right, won first place with their plan for Quorum.
Photo: 
Credit: 
Jane Mills
The Queen’s Entrepreneurial Competition executive.
The Queen’s Entrepreneurial Competition executive.
Photo: 
Credit: 
Jane Mills

When the Queen’s Entrepreneurial Competition (QEC) wrapped up its 27th year, a team from Harvard took home first place for a U.S.-centred project, and a Queen’s team came in with silver.

The QEC is a competition open to undergraduate students worldwide. Students submit a 23-page business plan in October, without specifying where they attend university, which is then reviewed by professors and experts.

The top 15 teams are invited to give a 20-minute presentation to a panel of judges in Kingston, followed by a question and answer session. The top six teams then present in front of a new panel of judges on Saturday, who choose the top three teams. Third place this year went to the University of Waterloo’s Sparkgig.

“The only requirement is you need to have a decent idea, a well-written business plan and you have to be an undergrad,” said QEC co-chair Jane Mills.

The judges for this year’s final round featured a panel of successful Queen’s alumni, some of whom started their own companies, and others who are currently CEOs at top financial firms.

The competition was founded by Meredith van Binsbergen, Comm ’90. What began as a 30-second business pitch has become “one of the longest-running and best-known undergraduate business plan competitions in the world, according to The New York Times.

Mills emphasized supporting young entrepreneurs as the goal of the competition.

“Watching someone balance running a business and being in school, you just have so much respect for them,” she said.

“For us, it’s really about fostering their business idea and giving them seed money to grow their business.”

This year’s winners, Quorum, were quick to put their $25,000 to use, officially launching the website they’ve been working on for roughly a year the day after they won.

Quorum was co-founded by Alex Wirth and Jonathan Marks, roommates in their senior year at Harvard University, and is an online legislative strategy platform that provides quantitative information on the United States Congress.

“We’re obviously pretty excited with the result of the competition and honoured to have won $25,000, which represents half of the total amount of money we’ve spent on developing a platform, so it’s really significant for us,” Wirth said.

“We had some tough questions that allowed us to think things through more for our strategy and how we’re approaching things.”

Wirth added that their success wouldn’t have been possible without all the members of the Quorum team, which is made up of students from Harvard, MIT and Washington University.

Mitigating Advertising, a team made up of second-year Queen’s students, won second place and $10,000 for their plan.

The team — Amit Kumar, Alex Craciun and Yong Jia Xiao — told the Journal via email that they’re an “enterprise software startup” that deals with digital advertising.

“We have relied on a lot of valuable advice from professors,” they said.

“As second year students, we have seen tremendous growth in entrepreneurial interest and we are excited to see where it will lead us.”

For Zoe Keirstead, co-chair of the competition, the success of Queen’s students this year proves there’s a need to further develop the entrepreneurial environment on campus.

“Queen’s doesn’t have much that supports entrepreneurship,” said Keirstead, Comm ’15.

“I think the fact that five out of 15 teams were from Queen’s proves that there is that need.”

She added that the successful commerce and engineering faculties show the need for an incubator.

“The fact that we have such a good business program and engineering program, which are the two streams that you see most entrepreneurs coming from — I think an incubator would be an incredible asset that would tie the two together,” she said.

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