Microfinance lending and ecologically friendly false eyelashes may not seem to have much in common. But they’re both new business ideas that caught the attention of the prize committee awarding this year’s $25,000 Sohr Grants, created to promote student entrepreneurship at the Owen School.
Jim Sohr, BE’86, MBA’90, and his wife, Leah, endowed the new grants. Sohr is the past President and Co-founder of AIM Healthcare Services, which provides claims cost-management services for government and commercial payers of health care benefits. A division of UnitedHealth Group purchased AIM in 2009.
“We would love to create many companies that become as successful as AIM Healthcare,” says Germain Böer, Professor of Accounting and Director of the Owen Entrepreneurship Center. “With this kind of support, the Owen School can attract more students who already have a business idea that they want to develop. This funding, combined with the mentor support provided by the school’s alumni, will drive the success of these new ventures.”
One of the grants went to Megan Allen, an MBA candidate for 2012, for her startup Georgie Beauty. Co-founded in 2009 by Allen and her sister, Abbey Allen Watt, the company makes “eco-luxe” false eyelashes sold under the brand name Winks by Georgie. The company has established partnerships with luxury retailers Neiman Marcus and Cos Bar. It also has been featured in Martha Stewart Weddings, InStyle.com, and numerous beauty and style blogs. About the target audience, Allen writes in her business plan, “These women are looking for the latest cosmetic products that help them achieve the celebrity look, but that’s not all. They are also increasingly concerned with consumer and environmental health.”
Contigo Financial is developing a microfinance model to provide payday loans to the 60 million consumers in the United States who don’t have access to traditional bank loans or credit card products. Currently these types of small loans are provided by pawnshops and payday lenders, where borrowing costs can exceed an APR of 400 percent. Co-founder Mario Avila, a 2012 MBA candidate and President of the Owen Student Government Association, is leading a startup team that has experience in consulting, banking and microfinance. He and his team are taking a novel approach by partnering with employers to help their employees meet short-term financial needs.