Ron Fowler '66, Nikhil Dama, Tim van Laarhoven, Laura Dunham, Ph.D. (Photo by Mike Ekern '02)

Home-cooked Meals Take Home Top Prize in Fowler

A platform to sell authentic, home-cooked meals, an online retailer of discount appliances and a menu reader for the blind, brought home the top prizes at the 7th annual Fowler Business Concept Challenge.

These three ideas were tops among the 64 concepts entered in this year’s competition, each earning $10,000 scholarships in their respective divisions: undergraduate, graduate and social venture.

Almost $60,000 of scholarships was awarded to 13 teams in this year’s competition, held annually in the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship. Participating students developed and submitted business concepts with potential to become viable, high-growth businesses. Entries were judged on originality, clear and compelling value proposition, competitive advantage, market opportunity and feasibility.

Nikhil Dama, a senior computer science and software engineering student, teamed up with two actuarial science majors, Tim van Laarhoven and Scott Laska, on an idea that fills an unmet need in access to cultural cuisine, leading to the group’s win in the undergraduate division.

For Dama, who was born in India and moved to the United States at age five, finding authentic flavors of home was hard to come by outside his family’s kitchen. His team’s concept, EasyEatz, is a marketplace for people to sell home-cooked meals by made with traditional recipes and ingredients from different countries.

“You can find authentic restaurants in many ethnicities, like Chinese, Italian, Mexican and Indian, but they often use a lot of butter, oils and preservatives we don’t use at home,” said Dama. “If you want real Italian cooking, it’s nice to have it made with a certain kind of pasta or sauce that reminds people of how their parents made it in Italy. We want to replicate that for a variety of ethnic foods.”

In the seven years of the competition, 908 St. Thomas students have participated and scholarships totaling $348,000 have been awarded. The 104 students who entered represent 29 academic programs. Winners came from 13 different disciplines. Many of these teams, including all three division winners, are entering the inaugural St. Thomas Business Plan Competition this February, for a chance to win up to $20,000 in cash to launch their ideas.

Undergraduate Winners:

  1. EasyEatz: Nikhil Dama – Computer Science, Scott Laska – Actuarial Science, Peter (Tim) van Laarhoven – Actuarial Science
  2. Launch Alert: Jeremy Kenneth Little – Entrepreneurship
  3. Go-Rilla: Alan Jacob Silber – Entrepreneurship
  4. BuyerLyst: Matt Michalski – Real Estate Studies

Social Venture Winners:

  1. elate. : Katie Hasslinger – Entrepreneurship & Finance, Aaron Redepenning – Electrical Engineering
  2. Seamless wUnders: Sara Nath – MBA
  3. CABtribution: Kaitlin Bischoff – Marketing Management, Patrick Hailey – Marketing, Leadership and Management, Business Communications, Morgan Halwas – Women’s Studies, Business
  4. Exposure Conference: Reuben Thompson-Amarteifio – MBA,
    (tie) Twin Cities Hip-Hop Development Center: Zander Tsadwa – Sociology

Graduate (MBA) Winners:

  1. Julie Carlson
  2. Hazmat Disaster Decontamination Trailer: Kenneth Rivet
  3. The Floom: Chris Gardner
  4. Travel Circles: Jordan Jenson, Ryan LaFlamme, Keith Richard


The Fowler Business Concept Challenge is named for 1966 St. Thomas graduate Ron Fowler, chairman and CEO of Liquid Investments Inc. Gifts to the university from Fowler, Alan and Marcia Bignall, Joseph and Dawn Keller, Will and Ellen Hoeg, the Cade Family, Peter Seidler and the Charles Kubly Entrepreneurial Scholarship have made the annual competitions possible.