'BambuBox' Wins Law School Entrepreneurship Contest, Progresses to UVA's Final Round
A team of three University of Virginia law students who created a company that will ship subscribers samples of new natural and organic products will represent the Law School at the UVA Entrepreneurship Cup on Friday.
The students' company, called BambuBox, will offer businesses trying to promote new products a way to build word of mouth.
"If, say, Clif Bar has a new flavor coming out and they want to get it into the market and into the hands of people who maybe have never tried a Clif Bar before, they would pay us to include the product in the shipment that goes out to our subscribers," said Steven Ryan, a third-year law student who came up with the idea.
Ryan and his teammates — third-year law students Jason Norinsky and Geoff Glass — won first place and a $2,000 prize in the 2012 UVA Law Entrepreneurial Concept Competition last week.
The team will represent the Law School on Friday at the next stage of the contest, the university-wide Entrepreneurship Cup, an annual business-concept competition open to all undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
The winning team or individual in the E-Cup competition will take home $20,000, with the second-place finisher receiving $10,000 and two honorable mentions each receiving $5,000. All of the prize money was donated by event sponsor Third Security LLC.
A panel of Law School alumni entrepreneurs and Associate Professor John Morley picked BambuBox as the best entry out of 12 teams comprising 22 UVA Law students this year. The panel included Doug Caton '72, founder and chairman of Management Services Corp.; David Kalergis '81, co-founder of Diffusion Pharmaceuticals LLC; and Hayward Majors '01, co-founder and CEO of CollegeSolved.com.
"The Law School has seen a rapid increase in entrepreneurship over the last three," said second-year law student Jordan Kelner, president of the Entrepreneurial Society student group, which has hosted the Law School competition since it began three years ago. Kelner said both faculty efforts and the society's work have helped students improve their practical business knowledge.
"This was the most competitive Concept Competition to date and I expect the trend to continue looking forward to next year," he said.
Last year, a team of three first-year UVA law students won $5,000 and an honorable mention in the final round of the E Cup for their invention of a "partially evacuated solar still" designed to provide clean drinking water in developing countries. (More)
The idea for BambuBox originated as a class project for the law students' Finance of Small Enterprise course taught by Richard Crawford. The three students were brainstorming ideas when Ryan mentioned that he was planning to attend a trade show of about 1,500 natural and organic product vendors called Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore.
"The idea kind of snowballed from there," Glass said.
At the trade show, Ryan pitched the idea of a subscription-based discovery service to a number of natural and organic product companies. "What I heard from them was 'Do it. We're ready for it,'" he said. "Especially the younger companies that are trying to gain traction, just trying get their products out there through distribution channels."
BambuBox subscribers would pay a low monthly cost to receive a box filled with samples of organic and natural products, which vendors will provide as a way to test out emerging products and generate buzz, the students said.
"The goal is to always make sure we're delivering more value to our subscribers than they are paying each month," Ryan said.
The law students believe the organic and natural product sector is a particularly good fit for the type of service they are launching.
"This organic and natural food market is different than most," Ryan said. "They're pretty tight-knit. They love sharing new products that they find. There's not a lot of traditional marketing to it. There's a lot of word of mouth — 'Hey, I found this new kind of rice. Have you tried it?' There [are] a lot of those kinds of conversations going on."
A similar company, BirchBox provides its subscribers with a monthly shipment of beauty, grooming and lifestyle products. That firm has raised upward of $11 million in venture capital funding and has acquired roughly 200,000 subscribers in less than two years, the students said.
"It seems like the idea is really viable, especially if you have the right space that you're trying to enter, one that's really fragmented, where there's a lot of small companies that have to compete to get on the shelves," Norinsky said. "If you're a makeup company, you're trying to get on the shelves in Macy's or Bloomingdale's. It's the same thing with organic and natural products trying to get on the shelves at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods."
BambuBox's "aspirational point" is to become a "connector between customers and brands," Norinsky added.
"For these brands, as they build up buzz and start to grow, we're the people who have information for them, we're the people who can help them with their marketing, we're the people who have data from consumers," he said.
The students' goal for the first year is to get around 1,500 subscribers. They hope to scale up to at least 50,000 subscribers within four years.
"I don't see acquiring the subscribers as being the hardest part of the business. I think if we just concentrate on delivering value to them every month, they'll recruit themselves," Ryan said. "The idea of paying $10 a month to get a bunch of stuff you've never seen before and that no else has ever experienced before, I think that's a compelling value proposition."