A machine that clears snow from solar panels is the idea that a trio of Reading Area Community College students developed for the Greater Reading Chamber of Commerce & Industry's Business Idea Challenge. The competition, open to students from each of the Berks County colleges, required students to come up with a business idea and then present a marketing strategy and other business information.
Gary Malloy, Lindsey Snyder and Courtney Armistead learned last week that their idea earned them second place and $1,000 cash prize to share.
The students are part of Professor MaryLou Kline's Principles of Marketing class and were required to complete a marketing project as part of the class. Professor Kline gave them the option of competing in the Business Idea Challenge and counting that as their project.
Gary, who had solar panels installed on his house several years ago, already had an idea. "After a snowstorm, the next day it's usually sunny, but my panels are covered with snow," he began. "The only way to clean them is to get on the roof with all of that snow and ice. So, I had an idea about a machine that would remove the snow, and clean pollen and dirt."
Since there is nothing like that currently on the market, Gary talked with some engineers in his family about the feasibility of such an idea, and they thought it could work.
Gary and Lindsey have had several classes together as Business Management majors, so he started by pitching the idea to her, and then they recruited Courtney to join their team.
The first stage of the competition required the group to prepare a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation that included financial information for their business, marketing strategy, cost analysis, target market and organizational structure of their company.
"I was the more creative group member, so I took the initiative to create the PowerPoint and organize the information," Courtney said. "I have never done any contests in the business field before; however, I was very involved in art contests/shows in the past."
Eighteen entries were received, with the top five advancing to the final round. For the finals, the group had to whittle their PowerPoint down to an 8-minute presentation, and then go through a 7-minute question-and-answer period. Gary compared it to the popular television show Shark Tank.
Lindsey, who handled the introduction and conclusion, said she was nervous. "I get stressed out when I have to do public speaking," she said. "But, I knew our idea was good."
Lindsey is a 2010 graduate of Muhlenberg and will graduate in May 2014. She would like to attend a photography school after she finishes at RACC. Courtney, who went to Governor Mifflin, is also on pace to graduate next May with a degree in accounting.
Gary, who spent 30 years working in Information Technology before his job was sent overseas, will graduate in December. With a background in hospital IT, Gary's ultimate job would be a project management position in healthcare.