Undergraduates win $10,000 Entrepreneurship Prize

June 16, 2006

Princeton Entrepreneur Network winners

Three Princeton undergraduates have won a $10,000 prize granted for the best business plan at an annual conference held by the Princeton Entrepreneurs’ Network.

Jeremy Johnson, Mick Hagen, and Joseph Perla won the prize for Zanidu, their concept for a website that will streamline admissions applications for both universities and applicants.

“We’re looking to change the way college admissions operates,” said Johnson. “We want to simplify the process on all ends and allow for easier and more transparent discourse between all parties. The system right now is convoluted and inefficient.”

The students said they would be devoting their entire summer to working on the site and plan to have a live version online in the next month or so.

Johnson, who came up with the idea for the site, is a rising senior majoring in political economy. He enlisted Hagen and Perla, both rising sophomores majoring in computer science, to build and design the site.

Jeremy Johnson accepts EN check

The site employs a peer-to-peer, or "matchmaker" architecture, that its creators said would simplify the flow of information between college recruiters, students, parents and guidance counselors. According to Johnson, such a system would reduce direct-mail and other recruitment expenses for colleges while expanding their access to international, inner-city and other hard-to-reach potential students. The website will allow students to tailor their applications to specific institutions. “And it will be fun to use,” Johnson said.

Johnson described himself, Hagen and Perla as “restless, entrepreneurial students more interested in innovative business development than theory or history.”

“We are being advised by good folks here at Princeton, including professors, alumni and administrators,” he said.

On hand to present the award for best business plan were Isabella Califano Ehrlich and James Gomez, both officers of PrincetonEN, the alumni group that organized the conference. The award was sponsored by Summit Partners, a private equity and venture capital firm in Palo Alto, Calif.

Dean H. Vincent Poor, chats with PrincetonEN chair James Gomez

The daylong conference, which took place June 2, featured panels and workshops on effectively running a business, raising capital, mastering the pitch, legal issues, technology trends and not-for-profit management. Newly appointed Dean of Engineering H. Vincent Poor opened the conference.

Notable panelists included John Quigley, founder of Nassau Capital; Jared Polis, founder of Blue Mountain Arts and Pro Flowers.com; and Diane deCordova, founder of Strategic Business Development Partners Inc. and former director of strategic alliances at Yahoo. Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, gave the keynote address.

The conference was co-sponsored by Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Bendheim Center for Finance. Corporate sponsors included the Carlyle Group, Latham & Watkins, Palo Alto Software, and Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering Hale, and Dorr.

Jeremy Johnson holds PrincetonEN 'check'