BYU innovations wow judges

Tad Walch
Deseret News
April 7 2003


PROVO - Carnivores guard the greenhouse that dominates the kitchen in Brian and Jennifer Hanrahan's student apartment.

It's not that the Brigham Young University students need flesh-eating pets to act as security for the plants in their greenhouse - the plants are the flesh-eating pets.

Brian is launching My Carnivore, a company he hopes will convince Americans to accept a new pet, the carnivorous plant. He describes the plants as "interactive, entertaining pets for young children" who tend to stick their fingers within reach of a plant's maw to see if they'll get a bite. And that's OK with Hanrahan.

"They're very safe," Hanrahan said of the plants. "Unless you're a bug or something."

The pitch Hanrahan made for the company at BYU's business plan competition last week wowed the 32 judges, who awarded My Carnivore second place and $28,000 - $10,000 in cash and the rest in services from accounting, law and capital firms.

Property Solutions, led by CEO David Bateman, won first place and $50,000 for its presentation of a software program that Bateman said will allow apartment managers to offer an online payment service to tenants.

The prizes are offered by entrepreneurs involved with the business school and corporate sponsors, including Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, PriceWaterHouseCoopers and Palo Alto Software.

The competition has a good track record. The 1995 winner was 1-800 Contacts, which now sells on NASDAQ for $20 share. A total of 39 teams competed in this year's contest. Nine semifinalists were pared to four for Friday's finals.

A third-place tie produced $15,000 in cash and services for two potential companies. StrollerWorks pitched Switch Back, a jogging stroller that allows the baby to face forward or back at its mother or father. The other company, Dierevo, hopes to combine two technologies to recycle wood residue from paper mills and produce fuel for vehicles.

Bateman, 24, a senior in business, is putting $100,000 of his own money into Property Solutions. He also founded DearElder.com, a company that produced $300,000 in revenue this year helping families get letters to LDS missionaries.

He said the first prize is a major boon to the company, which will test its software, Vantage XP, with two large apartment complexes next month.

"This should allow us to go to August without any additional funding," Bateman said. "We'll be able to hold onto more equity than we planned."

The four teams presented slick Power Point-style presentations to a standing-room-only crowd in the Tanner Building.

One judge, Scott Petersen, voted for Bateman's team because of his track record.

"I believe you put money behind someone who's done it before," Petersen said. "It takes guts to put up $100,000 of his own money, but he's done it before and understands the research that is necessary to launch a company. And he doesn't need a broad marketplace to be successful."

Hanrahan, who is working on a master's in business administration, grew up on a carnivorous plant farm. He formulated the idea for a pet business with another MBA student, John Christiansen, for a class project. When professors urged them to be serious about the idea, they entered it in the BYU contest and added Jennifer's friend Sarah Stevens to coordinate marketing.

The group will make a presentation to Petco in July or August and hopes to sell the pet-plants near check-out stands at Wal-Mart, Costco, PetSmart and other locations.

My Carnivore also provides themed pots for the plants and will market some accessories. One sign, "Beware of Plant," is surrounded by bones. Stevens projected annual sales of $14 million by 2007.

"It's a great product," Brian Hanrahan said. "You can send the kids out to catch bugs to feed the plants. We give them each a name, birthday and personality. They even come with an adoption certificate and you can see pictures of the little seedlings online" at mycarnivore.com.

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