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Skidmore College

Winner of Freirich Business Plan Competition: A 'Transmedia Fictional Universe'

April 12, 2014

Three Skidmore seniors who share a passion for storytelling were awarded the $20,000 top prize in the Fourth Annual Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition Friday. 

Making their case for Leaf Pile Media LLC, which they describe as a "transmedia fictional universe," English major Walter Barber, management and business major Ian Van Nest, and studio arts major Andrew Zimmerman impressed the judges with their plan to produce original stories on a variety of platforms ranging from games and action figures to television shows and films. 

Roommates since their first year at Skidmore, the three students will focus initially on marketing a board game they started developing two years ago with input from friends. They'll apply their award toward building a Web site to support sales, exhibiting at game conventions, and manufacturing the game, in which players journey through a fictional universe called Hara. They plan to sell the game at $50 each and, if it proves popular, develop it in other forms, such as a graphic novel, video game or film.

"Skidmore has given us an amazing opportunity," said Barber, the firm's creative director. "Sharing a common love of stories, we've come together from three concentrations – English, business and art – to collaborate on one truly interdisciplinary project."

"I think they have a very creative idea and potentially a really big business," said Kenneth Freirich '90, who put up the $20,000 first prize. "This is exactly the kind of innovative thinking this competition aims to encourage." 

leaf pile media
From left, Ian Van Nest '14, Walter Barber '14, and Andrew Zimmermann '14
won the $20,000 first
 prize in the Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition.

More than 170 students and 100 businesses have participated in the competition since it was launched four years ago by Freirich, a serial entrepreneur who is now president of Health Monitor Network. Returning to Skidmore in 2010 as the College's first "Entrepreneur in Residence," he issued an "Entrepreneurship/Creativity Challenge" to the student body. Inspired by the impressive talent, creativity, and effort that went into the student presentations, he decided to take things to the next level: launching a business plan competition to foster entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity among Skidmore students.

The competition has become a "signature Skidmore event," said President Philip A. Glotzbach in his welcoming remarks. “It's one of the most successful business plan competitions in the Northeast, offering one of the largest first place awards as well as one of the largest total prize awards." 

The second prize of $10,000 was awarded to Rum Dogs, Inc., a Dominica-based luxury rum brand that has developed a unique method for aging rum in barrels submerged in the Caribbean Sea. Founders Alexander Nassief '16 and Zach Rohde '14 announced that they filed just this week for a patent on the technique. On April 25, they will compete in the final round of the New York State Business Plan Competition. 

The third prize of $5000 went to East Coast Lacrosse, a maker of custom lacrosse apparel. Noting that lacrosse has been the fastest-growing team sport since 2008, founder Seth Berger '14 reported that sales reached $73,000 in 2013 and projected $200,000 in 2014. 

Six teams competed as finalists in Friday's event. In addition to the top three prizes, awards of $1,000 were made to each of the other finalists: Stella Langat '16, who is registering Double Dee's LLC in Kenya as the nation's first undergarment production company; Adam Beek '15, who has launched Munchi Heaven Agri, an organic farming enterprise in Jamaica; and Ezra Levy '15 and Marcella Jewell '15, who have launched a Web-based enterprise, Open Campus,that matches college students with businesses offering real-world projects.

Freirich started his own publishing business as a sophomore at Skidmore. His mentor in those early years, Nicolas W. Platt '76, returned to the campus Friday to serve as one of the five other judges. "Nic was the inspiration for starting my first business and I have always been grateful for his guidance, encouragement and support," Freirich said. Platt has been an entrepreneur, finance and corporate executive and is now mayor of Harding Township, New Jersey. 

Nic and Ken
For Ken Freirich, right, Friday's competition was an opportunity to reconnect
Nicolas Platt '76, his mentor when he was Skidmore in the late 1980s.

This year’s competition was coordinated by Paula Tancredi Penman, lecturer in management and business. The other judges in this year's competition were:

  • Nancy Cohen Wekselbaum '73, owner, The Gracious Gourmet; 
  • Jody Klein '85, chief executive officer, ABKCO Music & Records, Inc.;  
  • Susan Magrino Dunning '83, president, Susan Magrino Agency; 
  • Nick MacShane ’91, senior managing director, Progress Partners;
  • Ellen Sherman ’68, producer, Dateline NBC. 

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