Entrepreneurs to Watch – JMU


Harrisonburg, Virginia – James Madison University College of Business announces Illumi Lights as the overall winner of the COB300 Business Plan CompetitionPlatinum Edition, marking the 20and anniversary of the event.

Illumi Lights won first place and a $6,000 cash prize to be shared among team members, including:

Kenya Balser (’23), Marketing

Devyn Kennedy (’23), computer information systems

Michael Nguyen (’23), computer information systems

Joshua Wacker (’23), management

Illumi’s plan outlined the manufacture and deployment of a superior landscape lighting product. The product idea was selected to receive the Accenture Innovation Award as the best of this year. Team leader Kenya Balser also received the Ferguson Top Female Leader Award.

Second place went to Sharksafe Swimwear, Inc., a company that brings unique, shark-proof swimwear to the public. Perfect Portion, a company that produces a replacement for classic measuring spoons in the face of technological advancements, took third place. Two plans tied for fourth place, Cuts on Wheels, a mobile hair salon that provides hair styling services from three luxury vans in The Villages, Florida, and Zest, a C-Corp that manufactures and distributes high quality automated spice blenders.

The Joyce Guthrie team award went to Perfect Portion.

The scholarships awarded exceeded $25,000. Entrants also received coaching and feedback from highly successful business leaders and entrepreneurs serving as contest judges.

Thanks to the generosity of Don Rainey (’82) and Russell “Rusty” Shepard (’86), the name of the competition going forward will be Rainey-Shepard Business Plan Competition.

Some previous winners have gone on to develop their plans into successful businesses, including 2018 winning team member Brett Danielson. “The problem we analyzed in the business plan competition was why we ended up creating an actual product,” says Danielson. Danielson is now CEO of BarTrack Technologies, LLC, a hospitality technology company that helps bars, breweries and restaurants manage their inventory and ultimately eliminate waste. “We’ve taken the entrepreneurial journey,” he says, “from running the business from our living room to now, where we have offices and a manufacturing facility.”

Over 100 business plans were eligible for this year’s competition. Only a dozen were selected for consideration and only five made it to the final round of the competition. Each team came up with a plan to build a business from scratch. The finalists presented their plans to the competition judges, who evaluated the quality and execution of the presentation, the originality of the team’s idea and its potential for profitability. The finalists were asked about the financial, management, marketing and operating details of their plans in a question-and-answer session that followed.

“The lectures, seminars and discussions are important, but the competition goes further by testing the practical application of what they have learned,” Rainey said.

Balser is also focused on real-world application of his skills; she looks forward to Illumi’s top spot, which will fuel her efforts to secure a prestigious internship that will launch her long-awaited career in digital marketing.

More information about the competition and the winners is available here.


David Doremus contributed to this article.

Contact: Ginny Cramer, [email protected], 540-568-5325


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