High-performance dress shoe venture wins Notre Dame’s 2015 business plan competition

by Carol Elliott

McCloskey Business Plan Competition

The winning venture of the 15th annual McCloskey Business Plan Competition addressed a nearly universal need: comfortable shoes.

Wolf & Shepherd, a designer of quality men’s footwear that incorporates high-performance technology, took the grand prize of $25,000 after the final round of the event on Friday (April 17). The McCloskey competition, which awards nearly $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, is organized by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

“We are so pleased to see a significant increase in the number of students involved in the competition this year,” said Karen Slaggert, associate director of the Gigot Center. “Current undergraduate and graduate students are a vital part of every team, and they did an outstanding job representing these ventures in the final rounds. The judges were so impressed by the quality of ventures and by the presentations.”

Slaggert noted the competition drew 146 teams totaling 405 participants this year. All teams in the competition must include at least one Notre Dame full-time student, alumnus/alumna or faculty member. Plans must be for ventures that have not launched or are in the early stages of operations.

Wolf & Shepherd team members included Justin Schneider, Scott Lalor, Molly Whitlock, Cristina Gutierrez and James Sawdon. Their plan noted that shoemakers have crafted dress shoes using technology dating back to the 1920s, with little emphasis on comfort as demanded by today’s more active lifestyles. Wolf & Shepherd offers classically designed dress shoes that incorporate a number of features designed to improve wearability, such as high-density EVA foam heels and memory foam insoles. The forefoot and the heels also are made to be replaceable, which prolongs the life of the shoe.

The runner-up of the McCloskey competition and winner of $5,000 was Apollo Medical Devices, the developer of a blood chemistry testing system that allows medical personnel to process results faster, and more easily and accurately than current systems. The patented technology can be used at a patient’s bedside using a single drop of blood. The team also won the Sutherland Family Award for Best Presentation, a prize given to the team that receives the highest number of text votes from the audience attending the final presentations.

In addition to the grand prize, McCloskey gives out 13 additional awards. These include the Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact ($15,000), which was awarded to SolaPur, a venture that developed a new water purification technology that uses sunlight to kill disease-causing viruses, bacteria and protozoa. The technology can be adapted for multiple uses, from outdoor recreation and emergency preparedness to aiding developing regions of the world that lack access to clean drinking water.

The competition awarded a new award in 2015, the Vennli Award for Best Undergraduate Venture. The $10,000 prize went to SESSA, an online and mobile application aimed at helping smaller or inexperienced investors access hedge-fund investing. The app enables users to form peer investment groups in order to share ideas, pool funds and connect with a professional adviser.

Slaggert said SESSA is also notable because the team is composed primarily of students, including Joe Mueller, Federico Segura, Stephanie Tilden, Amie Wei and Nick LaRosa, as well as Gerald Linn, David Colson and Nicole Mueller.

The McCloskey Business Plan competition consists of four rounds over nine months. A total of 146 teams entered the competition in the fall. In December, 113 teams were invited to continue and write their business plans. On Thursday (April 16), 20 semifinalists were invited to present to a panel of Gigot Advisory Board members, who served as judges. The judges narrowed the field to the six teams for the final round of live presentations on Friday.

Slaggert said 221 judges and mentors participated in this year’s contest. During the process, the Gigot Center provided significant resources, including an entrepreneurial toolkit of software, mentoring, networking and feedback.

The Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship was founded in 1998 for the purpose of fostering innovation and infusing aspiring entrepreneurs with a sense of the possible. Through rigorous coursework, business plan competitions, extensive networking and mentorship and hands-on learning experiences, the center provides students with the knowledge and skills vital to entrepreneurship.

For more information about the Gigot Center, visit gigot.nd.edu.