Seifallah Mejri, a Fulbright Scholar earning a graduate engineering degree at the University of Bridgeport, has won the coveted Best Venture Enterprise Award at the 20th fall Connecticut Business Plan Competition for scholar-entrepreneurs.
Mejri’s winning start-up, called Clean Phosphates, was awarded the $1,000 cash prize among a field of 30 business proposals that were submitted by student-entrepreneurs from Yale, Quinnipiac, and other Connecticut universities.
Awards were presented on Friday, December 9 in New Haven.
Held twice annually since 1997, the Connecticut Business Plan Competition invites teams of student-entrepreneurs from Connecticut universities to submit a business plan or business model for an entrepreneurial venture and compete for prize money by defending their plans before a panel of judges. This year’s panel included Doug Campbell, of Angel Investor Forum; Konstantine Drakonakis, of Launch Capital; Bill Guerrero, of Albertus Magnus and winner of the very first state competition in 1997; and Evan Kipperman, partner at Wiggin and Dana, a legal firm offering services in intellectual property.
Clean Phosphates captured the panel’s attention because it uses a method being developed by Mejri to extract kaolin—used in the production of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, porcelain, and a variety of other products—from phosphate waste, an environmental hazard.
“I never expected to win,” said Mejri, 26. “It’s been a remarkable semester.”
In fact, it wasn’t even clear if he would enter the competition. Mejri, who is from Tunisia, said barely thought about Clean Phosphates when he arrived at UB this fall. Instead, he enrolled at the University as a Fulbright Scholar to earn a Master of Science in Technology Management.
He began co-developing Clean Phosphates back in 2011 with a friend back in Tunisia because they were concerned about the myriad problems associated with phosphate mining in their country.
“The way they extract phosphates—they go to a mine, bomb it, and collect phosphates for fertilizers or chemicals or other industries. They take the biggest rocks and toss the rest. The waste, water being affected, the social problems, the way the workers are treated: it’s a big social problem,” Mejri explained. “My friend and I wanted to see what we could do with the waste.”
Initially, he admitted, he had “no idea” that phosphates contained large amounts of kaolin—a breakthrough discovery with huge market potential. Nonetheless, even after that initial research discovery, they temporarily set aside work on the start-up. “We decided to get more experience, then work on the project,” said Mejri. “We were just kids.”
Mejri said his arrival at UB last August ended up being the perfect opportunity to resume work on the start-up, thanks to the Student Entrepreneur Center. The on-campus resource provides free advising, legal help, marketing counseling, and other resources he needed to fully develop Clean Phosphates. He has been advised by SEC Director Elena Cahill and Mike Roer, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the SEC.
Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, firstname.lastname@example.org