Students compete, hope for brighter tomorrow

ATLANTA -- Alfred Waluchio doesn't need a fact sheet or a market study to prove the importance of renewable energy to America's future prosperity. He's spent the past year of his life working with four fellow aspiring engineering and business students preparing to field technology that would convert electric power to renewable energy. If investors "buy" the inverter they're selling, they'll take home $15,000 and the Opportunity Funding Corporation's 2011 Innovation & Entrepreneurship Challenge title.

Mr. Waluchio, a senior at Morgan State University, was one of several students from over 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities to compete April 14-17, 2011 at the Westin hotel here for having the best business plan aimed at turning technical innovation into a profitable business.

"I've invested a lot of myself into this program," he said. "Even if our team doesn't win, I've learned so much just from being involved. I can honestly say it's been the most worthwhile experience of my college career."

In its eleventh year, OFC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum conducts a business plan competition bringing together five top students and a faculty advisor from each HBCU to Atlanta to present a sustainable business venture. Entering teams must have won the business-plan competition at their school in order to participate in the national competition here.

The forum, which also includes a national policy forum and entrepreneurship seminars for university presidents and deans, gives participants access to some of the nation's top business leaders and interview opportunities for future employment.

The potential to confer with so many gifted and goal-oriented young adults has been a phenomenal experience for Brig. Gen. Stayce Harris who has served as a judge during the competition for the past two years. General Harris, mobilization assistant to the Commander, U.S. Africa Command, was first introduced to the OFC organization by her former boss, Gen. William "Kip" Ward who was in charge of US Africa Command. She then enthusiastically recruited General Ward to be a 2010 keynote speaker for the OFC Innovation & Entrepreneurship Forum.

"These students are so bright," said General Harris. "It doesn't take long once you are involved with them to get hooked. You just want to encourage the students any way you can. They are our future technological and business leaders!"

General Harris was one of the few military representatives with an official role in this year's event.

"Needless to say, I had a captive audience of students who were curious and interested in the military," added the general.

Mr. Waluchio and others would not have the opportunity to apply the conceptual and theoretical knowledge of business gained in the classroom were it not for Dr. Mohammad Bhuiyan.

Doctor Bhuiyan has over 20 years of experience in dealing with HBCUs and minority entrepreneurship issues. His specialty is teaching students how to interact with people from different cultures to carry out successful business dealings.

In 2000, Doctor Bhuiyan wanted to do something about increasing the number of minority ethnic groups who were influential and successful entrepreneurs. Doctor Bhuiyan discovered at least one reason why there weren't enough successful African-American entrepreneurs: There were more than 100 HBCUs but few had entrepreneurship programs.

His efforts along with OFC's founder, retired Army Lt. Gen. Arthur Gregg, helped establish the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Challenge as part of a comprehensive entrepreneurship curriculum at each of the participating universities. Now an endowed professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Fayetteville State, his greatest satisfaction is knowing he's making a difference in the lives of others.

"I have so many students come up to me and say the (Innovation & Entrepreneurship Challenge) program is one of the best things that have ever happened to them," said Doctor Bhuiyan. "That's a compliment that is worth a million dollars to me."