UMaine students introduce marketable company proposal.

ORONO – As winter descended on the Canadian Maritimes last month, the timing for two University of Maine students and a recent graduate couldn’t have been better to introduce at an international business plan competition a marketable proposal to improve the efficiency of home heating oil delivery in frigid climates.

Competing against 19 other teams from as far away as Eastern Europe and Asia, the UMaine team won the first place overall “private sector” grand prize and an award of $5,000 for its innovative business plan.

Team members included Matthew Rodrigue, an engineering major originally from Wilton, who graduated in 2004; Brigham McNaughton, a UMaine junior from Springfield, Vt., majoring in business; and William Sulinski, a senior from Dedham, majoring in economics.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Plan Competition was a two-day event held in early December at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Richard Grant, director of graduate programs and executive education for the Maine Business School, accompanied the UMaine team as coach and adviser.

Rodrigue and McNaughton presented the team’s business plan for a hypothetical new company, Consumer Energy Research Corp. The company and concept may become a reality, said Rodrigue, who works as an engineering consultant for Woodard and Curran engineers’ Dedham, Mass., office and is a member of the UMaine Board of Visitors.

Because of the likelihood that Rodrigue, McNaughton and Sulinski will seek patents for the company, they were unable to discuss specifics of how they can improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of oil delivery.

“Mr. Rodrigue and Mr. McNaughton were polished in their presentation, they knew their plan well and fielded questions effortlessly and with confidence,” said judge Barbara Touchie, a trade executive with Business New Brunswick in Fredericton.

With Sulinski’s concept, the team borrowed from the expertise of the university’s Target Technology Incubator and Advanced Manufacturing Center, which helps inventors develop prototypes to take to market. They refined the concept, cost analysis, predicted outcomes, marketing strategies and the estimated return on investment – in short, a plausible business plan.

Other proposals included starting companies that used computers to evaluate symptoms to help doctors diagnose diseases, building and selling customized mailboxes to resemble a customer’s automobile or house, opening a restaurant and new ways to protect airline pilots and crew from unruly passengers.

The international business plan competition also taught Rodrigue and McNaughton to think more like business managers than students.

“Matt and I had a kind of defining moment when we realized we were looking at this (project) from an undergraduate perspective,” McNaughton said. “The perspective we learned was what do I need to do to get this to a mass market in six months?’ “

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