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It’s All in the Plan

It’s All in the Plan

Lazizakhon Komilova, Koppelman Entrepreneurship Competition Winner

Brooklyn College students try their hands at creating their own businesses in a new competition sponsored by the Koppelman School of Business.

Lazizakhon Komilova was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was eight years old. “It was hard for me to manage my diabetes as a kid,” she says, “because I didn’t understand what I needed to do.” She had no access to resources that explained her condition in a way she could understand as a child.

Today, as a Brooklyn College senior, she has been thinking about ways to help young people in the same situation. She developed an idea for an educational video game. The idea earned her first place in a competition hosted at the Koppelman School of Business as part of a series focused on fostering entrepreneurship at the college.

The Koppelman Entrepreneurship Competitions consist of three progressively complex challenges. First, students generate an idea for a business (the Ideas Challenge), then a pitch for that business (the Pitch Competition), and finally a coherent business plan for it (the Plan Competition). As well as winning first place in the Plan Competition, Komilova shared second place in the Pitch Competition.

Dean Qing Hu and Professor Veronica Manlow with competitors at the Koppelman Entrepreneurship Competition
Dean Qing Hu and Professor Veronica Manlow with competitors at the Koppelman Entrepreneurship Competition

Professor Veronica Manlow, who helped run the competition and mentor students, was instrumental in connecting Koppelman students with students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts, who brought their engineering and technical expertise to the endeavor. By combining their technical expertise with Koppelman students’ business and marketing skills, the ideas could move from concept to reality.

Funded by Brooklyn College alumnus Don Buchwald ’69, the competition offered students the opportunity to immerse themselves in all aspects of entrepreneurship.

“Mr. Buchwald has been a long-time supporter of Brooklyn College and passionate about preparing students for career success,” says Koppelman School of Business Dean Qing Hu. “The generous donation from Mr. Buchwald in 2021 enabled the competitions to be launched in early 2022, with a faculty advising and coaching structure and the fund for prize money and operations.”

The competitions were open to both students and alumni. Another competitor, Brooklyn College alumna Gabriela Shamailova ’22, teamed up with two mechanical engineers, Wan-Lin Hu and Chih-Wei Li, and a Ph.D. candidate in robotics engineering, Shou-Shan Chiang, from WPI to win second place in the Plan Competition. They entered with a plan for a device called Aurora that pumps, stores, and transports breastmilk.

Reflecting on the experience, Shamailova said, “I learned—and I feel like this is a huge one—what investors really look at. And the main thing is confidence.” Shamailova admits this was a challenge at first because of stage fright. But with practice, she understood that if she felt confident, she would sound confident. In addition to winning second place in the Plan Competition, Shamailova’s team won first place in the Pitch Competition.

This desire to persist despite challenges impressed competition judge, mentor, and keynote speaker Ted Liebowitz ’79. Liebowitz is a Brooklyn College alumnus who taught an entrepreneurship course at the school for a decade. “The heart, the passion, the determination,” he says, describing qualities he sees in Brooklyn College students. “That’s what it takes to be successful in business.” Liebowitz sees these qualities as necessary because entrepreneurship is fundamentally about risk-taking. “This is not like taking over your father’s store. This is starting from scratch,” says Liebowitz, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur.”

Another judge and mentor, Norman Schwartz ’69, who has been active at the school for many years, helped design the Koppelman Entrepreneurship Competitions, making sure they were appropriate for the college level. “They’re getting their feet wet with an idea,” he says, “and that idea doesn’t have to be designing another Apple module.” What students do need, however, says Schwartz, is the willingness to work and to learn, and a belief in the worth of their idea. “You never go after the money,” he says. “You go after your dream and your idea and then money comes in.”

Dean Hu is proud to be able to offer this powerful experiential learning opportunity to students. The competitions are currently in their second year, with the Ideas Challenge underway this spring, and another round of Pitch and Plan competitions set for this fall. “The Koppelman School of Business has a history of teaching entrepreneurship to our students,” says Hu, “and we are determined to continue fostering and supporting our student entrepreneurs with venues, education, and resources.”

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