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BKD Entrepreneurship Scholars Win Award at International Competition

Three students in Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne's (IPFW) Richard T. Doermer School of Business and Management Sciences M.B.A. degree program and one student in the Master of Arts program in the Department of Communication came home from the San Francisco International Business Plan Competition as winners. The M.B.A. students, James Alt, Stephen Hake, and James Ogle, and Aleshia Panbamrung, the Master of Arts in Communication student, otherwise known as the BKD Entrepreneurship Scholars, were awarded the Social Enterprise Award as the conclusion of the competition Saturday, April 26, in San Francisco.

The team presented a plan for a Purdue IP (intellectual property) called Immersive Technologies, Inc., that translates the spoken word into American Sign Language (ASL) and displays it as an electronic visual image on a computer, or any PDA device screen. They are recognizable ASL signs with facial images conveying emotions such as surprise, anger, doubt, happiness, and so forth.

John F. Wellington, dean of the business school, explained that the social aspect of the plan is that the electronic signing allows hearing impaired elementary school students to learn math and science concepts without the intervention of a human interpreter in the learning environment. "This would allow teachers, friends, and family of a hearing impaired person to spontaneously communicate with them using the technology. The judges in the competition strongly urged the team to broaden the commercial appeal to any public or corporate setting in which the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires signing," said Wellington.

Wellington gives credit for the guidance and mentoring of the team to Assistant Professor William Todorovich. "Unless you are here to see the coaching effort that is required, it's difficult to comprehend what it takes to successfully compete. This effort began last summer, continued through fall semester, and again through the current spring semester. We owe Bill a big thank you! We also owe Thomas Cottrel of BKD LLP a very big thank you for his financial support of our efforts. We enjoy presenting the expertise and talent of our faculty and students on the international stage and to be highly recognized for it. Tom's help was invaluable," Wellington said.

Steven Carr, director of graduate studies in the Department of Communication said, "Our department is extremely proud of Aleshia Panbamrung and her participation in the recent international business competition. Aleshia is graduating with an M.A. in Communication this semester and she represents some of the best qualities and skills that our Master's students have to offer."

The annual three-day competition consisted of three rounds including a 90-second elevator pitch, a two-hour trade show, and a 15-minute presentation followed by a 15-minute question and answer session with the judges and fellow competitors. The final round included graduate students from Cambridge (UK), Carnegie Mellon, Duke, MIT, Stanford, Michigan, Yale, and teams from Canada, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Spain.

The Social Enterprise Award is sponsored each year by the Claudio Chiuchiarelli Family Foundation.