The student-led start-up ZenKars sounds as if it should have emerged from Southern California. After all, its goal is to provide used-car shoppers with a "peaceful buying experience."
But ZenKars is Philadelphia-born and bred, and it won the 2013 Wharton Business Plan Competition last week.
ZenKars is an online retailer of used cars that doesn't have a weedy lot filled with cream puffs. According to
a YouTube video of its presentation
at DreamIt's Demo Day in December, the company connects car buyers directly with commercial sellers that typically shed their fleets via the auction process.
ZenKars, founded by second-year MBA students Venkat Jonnala and Jean-Mathieu "Jim" Chabas, took home the Perlman grand prize of $30,000. The prize is named after philanthropists Ellen Hanson Perlman and Richard E. Perlman, who donated $1.65 million in January to fund the business-plan competition for as long as students want to enter it.
For the 2013 edition, competition organizers said, about 200 ideas were submitted by more than 100 students.
Runner-up was MacuLens, which is developing eyeglass-lens technology to reduce the glare from high-intensity auto headlights. It was awarded $15,000. (Sign me up for those lenses, please.)
ZenKars also received a $1,000 award from the student-management committee that organized the competition. MacuLens picked up $3,000 as the people's choice winner, as voted on by the audience.
Though these are small amounts of money when it comes to bootstrapping a business along, business-plan competition winners sometimes go on to raise significant capital later.
Last year's Wharton competition winner was Fort Washington-based RightCare Solutions Inc., which attracted $1.75 million in an October financing led by Compass Partners L.L.C., a New York merchant-banking firm led by Richard Perlman, and Domain Associates L.L.C., a Princeton venture-capital firm.