Monday, July 15, 2013

13D Winners Work to Make Their Dreams a Reality

UVI students receive $30,000 to launch shrimp farming business…
Running his own business wasn’t Duane Sydney’s first goal, but that all changed when his girlfriend of three years, Kalayar Myint, asked him to enter the 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition. Myint has always wanted to start her own business. She came to UVI from Yangon, Myanmar where she worked with her grandfather in the family business.  “I always had a dream of having my own business because of my grandfather,” says Myint. “He is my inspiration, and he is the reason why I majored in Business Administration with a concentration in accounting at UVI.”

 The two pooled their skills and entered the competition in fall 2012-2013 along with 109 other students.  “We took both of our majors and pretty much merged them together,” says Sydney, who has an Associate of Applied Science degree in Process Technology. “She has the business and accounting aspect of everything and for me I have more of the process knowledge. We put it together and came up with the idea of shrimp farming.”

After months of hard work and multiple drafts of their business plan, they won first prize. Myint and Sydney were presented with a $30,000 check to help start DK Shrimp Farm on St. Croix. They hope to become major exporters of shrimp to the Caribbean market. Both graduated from UVI in June 2013.

The student entrepreneurship competitions are made possible by a $5 million gift to UVI from investment strategist and entrepreneur Kiril Sokoloff, the founder of 13D Research on St. Thomas. “Thanks to the generous gift from Kiril Sokoloff and 13D, the student competition is having a large impact on the territory,” says 13D Contest Coordinator Dr. Glenn Metts, associate professor of management at UVI. “It has raised the level of consciousness and conversation about entrepreneurship.”

“The 13D program is very worthwhile because it helps UVI student’s dreams come into reality,” said Myint. “More importantly my dream turned into a reality.” Sydney says that the competition changed him. “It definitely changed me for the better,” he says. “It really inspired me to pursue more business aspects.”  Instead of looking for a job, he is asking himself who he can employ. “How can I assist with the economy,” says Sydney, who often thinks of the ill effects of the closing of the HOVENSA refinery on St. Croix and how he can help. “The goal is to try to get the business as big as possible to try to get some people employed,” he says.

Currently, Sydney and Myint are applying for permits from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and seeking permission to use land he already owns to raise the shrimp. While they already have approval to grow crops on the land, they are having a challenge getting the land rezoned for livestock. They are currently reviewing all their options.  "Like they even mentioned in the competition, the hardest part about getting a business going is to get it started,” Sydney says. “We are not going to stop until we get this thing going.”

Myint has been in touch with Dr. Metts to discuss their options. “Our support to the winners is ongoing,” says Dr. Metts.  “It doesn’t stop after the competition.” He says that all of the 13D finalists receive support well after the competition is over.  The other contest winners were Sharon Seibert, who received $20,000 for her second-place win and Macy Miles, who won third place and $10,000.  Seibert will sell her paddle and sail watersports products in the Virgin Islands and U.S. mainland. Miles will create an online shopping business designed to allow people living abroad to get products that would be unavailable to them without her website.

This year, UVI’s 13D program expanded to host a territory wide high school competition. Antilles School Freshman Jonathan Woods became the first winner. He received $1,000 to help start Rock City Hydro, a soil-less home garden company.

“One of the most inspiring things about the entrepreneurship competition is watching the participants develop throughout the competition into serious business people,” says Dr. Metts. “Many of the proposals in the early stages are kind of rough but as the competition continues their proposals improve and the competitive juices flow.”

“The final round was very tough and all the other teams had improved their business proposals a lot,” says Myint. “It was so challenging and exciting on the day of the final round.”

Dr. Metts says he is very impressed with the competitors this year. “The 2013 13D Student Entrepreneurship Competition winners are very well prepared to be successful,” he says. “I fully expect that we will have at least three business startups from the final eight teams that competed in the final round in May. As we add more entrepreneurship programs at the University this competition is only going to get better.”