Whitworth Communications

For Immediate Release

May 2, 2005

Team of Whitworth International Students Wins Second Place
in Business-Plan Competition

In another case of doing well by doing good, a team of Whitworth international students earned second place in a regional business-plan competition by charting a winning strategy to help a Palestinian refugee rebuild a once-flourishing art career that was destroyed by violence in his native country.

Tobias Mayer of Germany and Suman Polepaka of India -- both students in Whitworth's Master of International Management program -- and artist Bassam Al Hayek were among three team finalists in the community-based category of the business-plan competition recognized Friday at Gonzaga University along with finalists in the student-generated and social-enterprise categories. Their enterprise, Al Hayek Arts, seeks to establish Al Hayek's reputation and portfolio as a world-class artist through a series of regional commissions and then to create new distribution channels that would fill a relatively vacant but potentially lucrative market for Christian fine art. First prize in the community-based category went to a team that includes Whitworth alumni Stacy Francis and Chantel Lindquist for a plan, Remote Monitoring Technologies, to manufacture portable wireless remote alarm systems.

The business-plan competition is sponsored by Gonzaga University's Hogan Entrepreneurial Leadership Program in collaboration with the Eastern Washington University Center for Entrepreneurial Activities and the Whitworth School of Global Commerce and Management. Major funding for the competition was provided by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation. A panel of 15 judges reviewed the plans based on 10 criteria, including social return on investment, feasibility, scalability, funding, and quality of the operating and financial plans.

Nigel Davey, a British émigré with a long and successful business and venture-capital career in the region who is currently serving as Whitworth's entrepreneur-in-residence, advised the Whitworth team during the competition. He said that starting a business plan with a person, rather than a product or service, presented unique challenges but that Mayer and Polepaka impressed him with their creativity and perseverance and with their commitment to helping Al Hayek. Before emigrating to the U.S. two years ago, Al Hayek was commissioned for major art installations, including frescos on the scale of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, and employed 25 people to produce replicas of his art for sale to Christian pilgrims. His facility and equipment were destroyed, so he has been working parttime for a manufacturing company to support himself since coming to Spokane.

"The students had to figure out how to re-position Bassam as an artist and establish his reputation locally, then identify a channel to distribute his art. It's there that they discovered the opportunity to create a new channel and tap into a $6.8 billion market for Christian products and a $4.9 billion market for fine art in the U.S." Davey says. "Suman and Tobias are both very intelligent, but they have that inner goodness that caused them to hang in with a tough challenge. I really hope they both become entrepreneurs because I think they have that can-do spirit."

Mayer and Polepaka say they plan to continue working with Al Hayek until they graduate from Whitworth's MIM program in December and hope to secure at least one significant local commission for him. Their plans beyond graduation are open-ended, but they both believe the business-plan competition will open doors because it gave them experience in integrating and applying their training to a real-world challenge.

Polepaka, 26, who worked as a software engineer and project manager in India and Germany before coming to Whitworth, says "I've done coursework in management, marketing and financing, but in the business plan I was able to put them all together and see how they contribute to operations and strategy. I would give a lot of credit to the MIM faculty and to Nigel Davey who have been very committed to our success."

Mayer, 25, came to Whitworth as an exchange student last year and was so impressed he decided to return this year to enroll in the MIM program. "I thought the education here would better prepare me for business and life," he says. "The student focus, the interactive nature of the education, small class sizes, and the accessibility of faculty all contribute to the quality of the business education but also give you the sense and feel of business."

Kyle Usrey, dean of Whitworth's School of Global Commerce & Management, thinks the international nature of the Whitworth team contributed to its success and highlights the nature of the global marketplace.

"It is significant from a globalization standpoint that a Christian university in the U.S. brought together students from Germany and India, under the tutelage of a Brit, to help a Palestinian artist-businessman regain his livelihood," he says "That is exactly what we are about at Whitworth and the School of Global Commerce & Management in terms of fulfilling our mission to 'honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity' by bringing together resources to provide opportunity, job creation, and creative expression for the region."

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The college enrolls 2,400 students in more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs.


Kyle Usrey, dean, Whitworth School of Global Commerce & Management, (509) 777-4721 or kusrey@whitworth.edu.

Greg Orwig, director of communications, (509) 777-4580 or gorwig@whitworth.edu.

Related Links

Master of International Management > Department Spotlight >

School of Global Commerce & Management > Department Spotlight >

Whitworth Press Release Index