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January 23, 2014

Students win big in business venture competition

Joint J.D./M.B.A. 'Team Nemies' take home Best Venture, $1500 prize

On December 4, 2013, two University of Oregon School of Law students, along with their MBA teammate, overcame adverse local weather conditions and five other teams of competitors to dominate the 2013 Lundquist Center for Entrepreneurship's Graduate Venture Quest competition.

In days leading up to the competition, uncommonly severe weather transformed the University of Oregon campus into a snow-filled winter wonderland. But as the snow continued outside, inside the Lillis Business Complex, "Team Nemies" was busy taking the Graduate Venture Quest investment competition by storm. 

Led by University of Oregon Law students Alec Hankins (2L, left) and Derek Schloss (3L, right), and M.B.A. candidate Lindsey Arkfeld, Team Nemies received first place in every category of the competition: Best Venture, Best Elevator Pitch, and M.B.A. Choice for Best Elevator Pitch. The resounding victory earned Team Nemies the competition’s top prize of $1,500. More importantly however, the team’s participation in the Venture Quest competition significantly improved their entire business.

"Preparing for a competition like Venture Quest really helps solidify many of the weaker parts of a business plan," Schloss said. "Essentially, it forces each contestant to become well versed in the different areas of their business, as they're expected to defend the plan in front of three judges and an audience. We knew that by preparing for the Venture Quest competition, it would make our business much stronger."

Hankins and Schloss began preliminary market research for their venture after meeting in Oregon Law's Technology Entrepreneurship Program last summer. Arkfeld later joined the team after working with Schloss, a concurrent J.D./M.B.A. student, on several business school projects. The team's success exemplifies the spectacular results of students' interdisciplinary collaboration through Oregon Law's Concurrent J.D/M.B.A. Program.

Team Nemies' winning venture — and team name — is based upon a simple, but profound concept: phonemes. Phonemes ("Nemies" for short) are the auditory building blocks from which words are constructed and understood. Weak phonemic awareness is thus a common issue for children struggling with literacy. Team Nemies' product, Nemies, is an educational tool inspired by phoneme research, designed to increase literacy rates among impoverished and disadvantaged children.

"Nemies is a science-based iPad app that rapidly trains phonemic awareness, using extensive grant funded research and best-practice methodologies to create a dynamic, inexpensive and effective solution to children who fall below the national literacy benchmark," explained Schloss.

Both Hankins and Schloss point to their experience at Oregon Law as a critical factor in their outstanding performance at the Venture Quest competition.

"A legal education, and one from Oregon Law particularly, has given me the training to analyze, synthesize and, most importantly, recall voluminous amounts of information," said Hankins. "We had a short time to know Nemies front and back and my legal training definitely helped me tackle the challenge."

"Many of the classes taught at Oregon Law have also allowed [Hankins and me] to have a true understanding of many of the legal issues surrounding our venture — for example, entity formation strategies and intellectual property protection," added Schloss.

The knowledge and skills acquired through their Oregon Law education will continue to pay dividends for the two students as they move forward with their promising venture. Earlier this year, Team Nemies was among 14 international teams selected to participate in the Mai Bangkok Business Challenge in Thailand. Hankins, Schloss and Arkfeld will travel to Bangkok at the end of February for the competition. In the meantime, their team will continue working to develop and improve Nemies, both as a product and a business.

After graduation, Schloss and Hankins want to pursue careers that allow them to utilize their expertise as both lawyers and entrepreneurs.

"After graduating law school I plan to take the bar in either Oregon or California," said Schloss. "I want to remain involved in entrepreneurship — both as an attorney, and in a business development role. I'm also interested in many of the typical 'business law' areas of practice — business bankruptcy, real estate transactions, contract drafting and intellectual property, to name a few."

"I love the West Coast and I want to work with growth stage companies," said Hankins. "I'm definitely a deal guy — I want to work with entrepreneurs to build, buy and sell businesses. I love the transactional environment and all the legal issues that are touched along the way: IP, land use, contracts, employment law — it's all in there."

When they aren't otherwise occupied developing world-changing technology ventures, Hankins and Schloss are just two regular guys. Hankins loves the outdoors and spending time with his girlfriend surfing, hiking and camping. The couple also enjoys food, wine and traveling. Schloss is involved with several local basketball leagues, including the Legal Ballers Association. He enjoys relaxing with friends at local Eugene hangouts and exploring the rest of Oregon with his girlfriend and their dog.

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