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UCI Team Wins National Contest

Competition: Prize is $5 million in funding for business proposal to offer drug information via Internet.


A team representing UC Irvine won $5 million in seed money this week--the top prize in a nationwide contest--for a proposed Internet business that would provide physicians and patients with current information on drugs and their potential uses.

The blueprint for, drawn up by UC Irvine executive MBA students Quang Pham, 35, and William Walz, 39, along with three others, beat out 220 entries from squads at Harvard, Stanford and UC Berkeley, among others.

The funding was provided by Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm that sponsored the contest and has invested in such high-profile firms as and

Hummer Winblad banked on the upstart because of a strong, experienced management team and a product aimed at a potentially large market, Dan Beldy, a partner with the venture firm, said Thursday.

Indeed, the winning team boasts no fresh-faced college kids. Chief Executive Pham spent five years at Genentech Inc. and Merck & Co. Inc. before founding the company in January. Michael Wells, 32, vice president of marketing, also comes from Merck, while Chief Operating Officer Alan Heim, 47, and Chief Financial Officer David Ramsay, 35, were executives at drug maker ICN Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Only one team member had to be a UC Irvine student to enter the tournament.

Before winning the grand prize, the executives had anted up $70,000 of their own money to start the Irvine business.

The five team members currently are the only employees, but the venture firm will help them recruit new hires and find potential customers and strategic partners, Beldy said.

The $5 million will allow to add 10 employees, including a chief technology officer, within the next month and will accelerate the firm's business development, Pham said.

"Now that we've got the money, we're going to go out and get the technology and people we need and then try to raise more funds," he said.

The company's Web site should be up and running within the next three months. would charge pharmaceutical companies who want to post information about their products on the site.'s victory is seen as a coup for UC Irvine, which puts heavy emphasis on information technology and e-commerce. The university's Graduate School of Management was recently ranked 22nd in the world by the Financial Times of London and among the top 50 nationally in surveys by both Business Week and U.S. News & World Report.

"This will attract a lot of attention to what we're doing here," Dean David H. Blake said.

The UC Irvine team was one of four finalists that presented plans Tuesday morning to Hummer Winblad partners. The other finalists were teams from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Northeastern University in Boston.

Hours later, the partners selected the winner. The losing teams received no venture money.

Hummer Winblad's contest is aimed at establishing links with universities around the country, which are sponsoring a growing number of contests encouraging students to develop business plans.

In recent years, Stanford, Berkeley and Harvard began holding such competitions in the hopes of drawing student proposals to the attention of venture capitalists. Chapman University in Orange and UC Irvine have announced plans to hold their own contests this year.

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