MyFridgeRental.com won the $15,000 first place and $2,500 audience choice prizes at the sixth annual Cupid's Cup entrepreneurship competition held in Hoff Theater on April 1. High Life Entertainment won second place and received $7,500.
MyFridgeRental.com is run by two Smith School seniors, twin brothers Adam and Eric VanWagner. The dorm refrigerator rental and delivery website began in early 2010 and has generated $167,000 in profit so far.
Adam said, "We came into the competition confident, knowing we were going to do our best," but said they were surprised by the win. Their business strategy was to make the brand more of a "service, not just a product," he said.
The 2.9-cubic-foot "MicroFridge" units, a dorm-size refrigerator, freezer and microwave-in-one, are delivered and picked up directly from dorm rooms at eleven universities in Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and D.C. MyFridgeRental.com also offers free year-round maintenance.
The Entrepreneurship Invitational gathered investors, students and university officials to hear pitches from university students and recent alumni who were running their own companies that are already generating more than $5,000 in revenue. Instead of hearing live pitches from all finalists this year, a short video about each business was shown and only the top two candidates, chosen at a private judging beforehand, gave
Judges include Smith School alumnus, founder of Under Armour and contest sponsor Kevin Plank. Each year, Plank donates $25,000 to the competition, named after a rose selling business called "Cupid's Valentine," his early entrepreneurial exploit while at Maryland.
University President Wallace Loh, the Mighty Sound of Maryland and even Testudo came to hear speeches from Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, and Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectator and owner of the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers. Both graduated from Maryland in 1955. Other successful entrepreneurs also presented their business ideas, including three Smith School students from India who won first place in a Chinese competition with VeggieCool, a provider of cold-storage facilites for struggling Indian farmers.
The three other Cupid's Cup finalists were High Life Entertainment, 1 Cut Above, and REDEX. A fifth finalist was involved in a car accident and had to withdraw from the competition. Contest organizers said there were no serious injuries.
High Life Entertainment is an event management service that also provides five days of nightlife entertainment a week in D.C. for undergraduates, graduates and young professionals. Anthony Moniello's company generated over $200,000 in profit last year and planned to use the prize money to invest in "better trained human capital" and begin a summer internship program.
Michael Hassett, a private investor who attended the competition, said, "It was amazing to see college kids [as entrepreneurs.] I didn't have that attitude when I was 22."
"I thought I saw a couple ideas," Hassett said. "[1 Cut Above's] focus on African Americans was neat. I think it could go national." Hassett said he already obtained a business card from MyFridgeRental for his 17-year-old son who is going to college next year.
The Cupid's Cup was not the VanWagners' first experience in business competitions. In March 2009, Adam won first place in the Pitch Dingman Competition for Fairview Enterprises, a television rental company for nursing homes. Adam and Eric also entered MyFridgeRental.com into Pitch Dingman last April as an opportunity uniquely for Maryland, but did not win.
"We've come a long way since last year," Adam said, smiling.
Adam is an operations management major and Eric is a marketing major at Smith School. "The business school has been vital," Adam said. "[We] try to take a little piece from every class and apply it."
Adam offered a piece of advice from his brother's and his winning experience, "You can do anything you put your mind to, in all caps. People think it's so cliché, but we believed, we executed and we succeeded. It's a fact. It's not just a saying."