The McDonough School of Business announced last week the start of the Leonsis Family Entrepreneurship Prize, a $1 million gift from the family of Ted Leonsis (CAS ’77) that aims to foster entrepreneurship among Georgetown students and alumni.
Leonsis is an entrepreneur, investor and founder and CEO of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, which operates and owns sports teams like the NHL’s Washington Capitals and the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C. Leonsis’ donation to Georgetown will go toward the new prize that will be granted to students and recent alumni nominated for their promising startup ideas.
Students in any of Georgetown’s undergraduate or graduate schools, as well as alumni who have graduated within the past six months, can be nominated for the prize by a Georgetown faculty member or an entrepreneur-in-residence, an entrepreneur who is available throughout the semester to meet with students to encourage entrepreneurship on campus. The nominees will compete each year for a share of a $100,000 allotment to fund their entrepreneurial aspirations.
Starting in fall 2016 and continuing each semester for the next ten years, nominees will have the opportunity to submit an application to the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative for internal committee review. GEI will select finalists to give presentations in front of the GEI Advisory Board, which will ultimately grant funding to the winning company or companies.
Leonsis expressed his family’s desire to promote innovation with the prize, especially among those who might struggle to finance a new venture without support.
“We want to encourage entrepreneurial thinking, but unfortunately many young entrepreneurs are stymied because of a lack of financial resources” Leonsis wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our family wanted to help alleviate that obstacle.”
According to Jeff Reid, GEI founding director, the board will likely award about $50,000 each semester for the winning startup or startups. Reid said nominees will be evaluated based on the viability of their venture, their passion and initiative, their commitment to problem-solving and creating value in communities via entrepreneurship and their business acumen.
The startups that will likely be awarded funding by the Leonsis prize will have already undergone substantial development, allowing the prize to help spur their expansion.
“I think the students who are likely to get the Leonsis prize will have gone beyond the idea phase and so the prize will help them turn the idea into a real business,” Reid said.
The idea for the prize was born in late January 2016 when Reid and MSB Dean, David Thomas approached Leonsis with an offer to serve as chairman of the GEI Advisory Board. Reid said Leonsis not only accepted the position, but also quickly expressed his family’s desire to grant a prize to Georgetown with the goal of encouraging student entrepreneurship.
“The same day he said yes to the board and he suggested the prize,” Reid said. “So, it was his idea, but it fits in with our goal and our program, so it was easy for us to say yes to that.”
Ted Leonsis now serves on the GEI Advisory Board with his son Zach Leonsis (MBA ’15), who is vice president and general manager of Monumental Sports Network. The prize was given on behalf of his family, which also includes his wife Lynn and his daughter Elle (COL ’14).
Reid predicted the prize could inspire new Georgetown students, previously not considering an entrepreneurial career path, to reconsider their options. Reid said proper seed funding, early investments in the company, usually by the founders or friends, until it can generate money of its own, can be the deciding factor in launching a new business.
“It might encourage some students to take the entrepreneurial leap who otherwise might not have taken that leap,” Reid said. “Ten-thousand dollars or $20,000 can make the difference between something that stays as a class project and something that actually becomes a startup company.”
Daniel Lysak (COL ’18), a member of the Entrepreneurship Fellows Program, is currently working on a team project to create a social app for travelers to share advice with friends. Interested in applying for the prize himself, Lysak said the prize will motivate others to pursue entrepreneurship as well.
“Obviously entrepreneurs are intrinsically motivated, but to have a sort of award that says ‘if you really refine and work hard and contemplate a great idea, that it could really have a chance of success,’ I think that will make more people incentivized to become entrepreneurs,” Lysak said.
Kamar Mack (COL ’19), an aspiring entrepreneur and co-founder of developing company, Beyond a Meal, with partner Dara Lajevardian (COL ’19), is also interested in applying for the prize in the fall or spring of next year. Mack said the prize will inspire more Georgetown students to become entrepreneurs.
“[The prize] really sparks an entrepreneurial bug, because entrepreneurship is contagious and once your friends start launching ventures, you start thinking,” Mack said. “Basically it creates an environment where entrepreneurship is alive and well.”
Mack’s startup aims to feed and clothe the homeless while engaging the community and making a profit. Still in its embryonic stage, the company won a Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative pitch competition in February. Mack hopes to win a share of the Leonsis prize to help his company live up to its potential.
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