After failing to make it past the first round in 2012, Samantha Fiani was not planning on entering this year’s New Venture Competition at Central Michigan University.
But after meeting with Debra Zellner, executive director of the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, and Associate Director Robby Roberts, she quickly changed her mind.
Fiani, a CMU graduate student working on a Master of Arts in Recreation and Parks Administration, took suggestions from the judges last year and recreated her product — solar-powered safety lights for bicycles that give the cyclist the option of charging electronics on the go.
Going back to the drawing board paid off on March 22 when Fiani and team members Joe Shaheen, a Flushing sophomore, and Tyler Dunbar, an Adrian sophomore, won the $30,000 Best Overall Venture award, beating out 30 other teams.
“It was a surreal feeling,” Fiani said. “That’s really the only way I can describe it. We put so many hours and days, weeks, even months of work into it, and to have that actually pay off, it was amazing.”
Fiani said they were extremely well-prepared to answer any questions by the judges.
“This year, we practiced a lot before the competition,” she said. “We really had everything down; we were well-organized, we were prepared for all sorts of questions.”
Mott Community College is currently creating a prototype for their project, and it should be ready for manufacturing in about a month.
Fiani is an avid cyclist herself and said her past commuting experiences led to the idea.
“I’ve had to replace my bike lights numerous times, so it’s an issue I’ve been dealing with,” she said. “I’ve been commuting on my bike pretty much full-time since I came to Mount Pleasant in 2007, and that’s how it came about.”
But, in order to build her idea into a company, she needed assistance with the business side.
That is why adding Shaheen, an entrepreneurship major, and Dunbar, a finance major, proved to be beneficial.
To determine the projected price for the product at $24.95, surveys played a major role.
“We sent out surveys to bicycle clubs in Michigan and asked for their opinion on the pricing for a product like this, and we narrowed it down to what seemed to be the price most customers would be willing to pay,” Shaheen said.
Their company, Solar Cycle Lights, LLC, also plans to donate a portion of its profits to the national bicycle safety advocacy group League of American Bicyclists.
“We were trying to be competitive in any category, and one of them is a social venture category, so we are trying to cultivate a strategic partnership with the League of American Bicyclists,” Fiani said. “We also wanted to show our potential customers we are committed to bicycling safety as a whole.”