When second-year MBA student Michael Crowley came to campus a year and a half ago, he had three years of accounting experience under his belt. He had worked for a firm that served startup companies, had a few startups of his own and was focused on finding the right idea for a new enterprise.

“I came back here specifically to start a business,” he said.

Crowley says he knew growth would be in the small-tech sector, which includes nanotechnology and microtechnology. After a year, he came up with a business idea that won his company a coveted business award Friday.

The Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies’ annual Pryor Hale Award for Best Business Plan, Best Presentation and Best Business was awarded to Crowley’s business, Incept Biosystems.

The business, which Crowley started with the help of Engineering Prof. Shuichi Takayama and Physiology Prof. Gary Smith, has developed a microfluidic device that mimics the environments found within organisms.

“The platform has the potential to revolutionize how cell researchers and clinicians effectively grow and analyze cell tissues,” Crowley said. He added that the product has a potentially large market.

The company’s first product will mimic the human fertility system. It will be the size of a credit card and will help fertility specialists to more effectively perform in vitro fertilization — a procedure in which male and female sex cells are united outside the womb.

Crowley said in order to be a good entrepreneur you have to be able to recognize and understand needs but doing so is not as intuitive as one may think, explaining that people often fall in love with a product idea and forget to ask whether people really need it. Crowley said he created two companies before he learned business skills.

During the competition for the Pryor-Hale, Crowley had to give a presentation in 15 minutes and present his business plan in 20 pages.

“I went to ZLI because of their resources. They know how to analyze,” Crowley said. “They helped us refine our pitch.”

MBA student Benjamin Lewis, whose company Style High tied with Crowley’s for the Best Business award, entered the competition because of the help he received in developing his business plan, the exposure to venture capitalists and the cash prize.

One of those venture capitalists was Business school alum Ravi Mohan.

He is the managing director of Shasta Ventures and served on the judging panel in the Pryor-Hale competition. At the end of Friday’s six presentations, he said, “These are just like the ones we get in our offices. Impressive.”

The Zell Lurie Institute provides educational resources — including courses, competition and advice — for future entrepreneurs at the University.


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