Two UND Student Entrepreneurs Win National Business Plan Competition

Two University of North Dakota students recently took home first prize in a national business plan competition for their clever idea to provide private, restful spaces to weary air travelers inside airports.

In a concept a bit like the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” UND team members Tom Borvan and Anders Nervold – natives of Norway and both juniors at UND majoring in entrepreneurship – along with more than 20 other student teams from nine universities across the United States and Canada, conducted a 90-second “elevator pitch” in front of expert, business savvy judges and the other competing teams. They later gave presentations in front of a more select panel of judges.

The judges were asked to provide useful feedback on every business plan during the annual “Giants Entrepreneurship Challenge,” held at UND April 13-14. The competition supports innovation, entrepreneurship and development of future business ventures. Thirty-four student teams applied to compete in this year’s competition, but only about 20 were selected.

Borvan’s and Nervold’s venture is called “myQuub.” At airport hubs, myQuub would provide small and efficient cubicle units that consist of a desk, chair and a bed. These require only a power outlet and about 50 square feet of space. The idea is that when a traveler has a layover, a flight is delayed or altogether cancelled, they would be able to rent the cube for the time needed.

These units would have complimentary Wi-Fi access, individual environmental control, entertainment system, supreme sound isolation and would be cleaned between each use. They would provide a quiet, private atmosphere for a tired traveler.

Borvan said the idea for “myQuub” originated in an entrepreneurship class he and Nervold took at UND.

“We brainstormed several ideas, but came back to this one because it offered the greatest potential for success,” he said. “The competition proved that we could actually do this.”

They’re now working with a manufacturing firm in India on design ideas.

“The biggest issue for us is sound isolation,” Borvan said. “The cubicles have to be places where people can relax, do business and sleep.”

As with all good ideas, turning the concept into a real business before someone else does is a challenge. Borvan said one company in the United States is promoting a similar venture, and others are taking root in Germany and India.

A defining factor for Borvan’s and Nervold’s plan is that these spaces would not require a membership.  Individuals would be able to rent them by the hour or by the night.

Raising capital and taking the idea to market are the next steps, which will be followed by the process of acquiring space in airports, Borvan noted.

Once all the teams had given their presentations, the judges decided the winners. There were 15 judges from places such as Winnipeg, Minneapolis, Wahpeton and Grand Forks. They included successful entrepreneurs, bankers, economic developers and business leaders.

Apart from the UND team, other top placers came from Johns Hopkins University and Ball State University.  Cash prizes were awarded to the top three teams, and separate prizes were handed out for “Best Elevator Pitch,” “Most Innovative Idea” and “Most Improved.”

The competition was sponsored by Giants Seeds, JLG Architects, EcoEnvelopes, Construction Engineers, Valley Dairy of Grand Forks, UND Center for Innovation, and Skips Gourmet.