Business concept means big bucks for USC grad students

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) – A team of students in the University of South Carolina's International Masters of Business Administration program have won more than 15,000 dollars towards starting their dream business.

Most recently they were finalists to win 40,000 dollars through the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge. While they didn't take that top prize Tuesday night, they won another $1,000 toward their concept.

It's called "myBuddy" and its creators describe it as a new way of learning at a low cost. "myBuddy is an internet-based language resource that connects students on one side of the world with teachers on the other," said Ryan Nielson, the project's team leader.

Nielson says the concept birthed out of personal experience. While he's currently in China where he's studying on USC's IMBA track, he says 'myBuddy' was inspired from another trip abroad. "I lived in Korea for two years and taught English," said Nielson. "There's a huge demand for English that's not fulfilled adequately."

He adds that's mainly because it's expensive. So he joined forces with four other business students who wanted to make international tutoring accessible and affordable.

So how does it work? "The teachers and students connect with each other and we basically provide a platform for that," said Nielson. "The students rate the teachers and based on those ratings the teachers are able to command higher prices."

The idea is described as innovation at its best according to USC's Associate Director of the Faber Entrepreneur Center Dean Kress. Kress saw Nielson and his team's business plan during USC's Entrepreneurial Challenge 'Proving Ground' this past November.

"myBuddy won our Innovista Innovation category and with it, a $10,000 prize," said Kress. "They have a tremendously innovative program for teaching English to Korean students."

Nielson says eventually the team hopes to include all languages in the platform. For now as they work to finish school, he says the funds they've won will help make 'myBuddy' a reality post-graduation.

"With what we have, we can at least get the basics of the test product out there, which will then give us the clout and the ability to tell investors, 'Hey, this is a product concept that works,'" said Nielson.

Ryan's brother, Thomas, is the youngest member of the team and currently attends college in Utah which is how they were eligible for the latest competition. The three other members of the team are all a part of USC's IMBA track and are studying in Italy, France and Spain.

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