SALISBURY, MD---After developing plans for a company that provides meals and groceries to Ocean City vacationers, Salisbury University alumna Nicolette Engler has followed in her father’s footsteps to become this year’s winner of the annual Bernstein Award. It recognizes outstanding, potentially successful business ideas developed by SU students.
It is the first time a second-generation winner has taken home the award, and its top prize of $5,000, since the competition began 20 years ago. Entrepreneurship runs in Engler’s family–her father, Pete, used his winnings from the 1989 competition to start the popular Salisbury restaurant Nacho Pete’s.
“I was extremely proud of her,” Pete Engler said. “The passion she has for business and the work she put into her plans showed in her presentation.”
Engler’s winning plan for the “Ocean City Provision Company” was announced by competition founder and SU alumnus Richard Bernstein (’76), who attended the awards banquet on Saturday, April 28, with his wife. He spoke about the personal significance of the $5,000 first-place award: It was the amount he borrowed from a bank to launch his first business, K&L Microwave in Salisbury. He also reflected on the joys of entrepreneurship, as well as its broader significance as a source of innovation and job creation.
“Not only did the award impact the direction I took with my career but now its impacting my daughter’s life in a really positive way, and what a legacy for Bernstein to leave for the University,” Pete Engler said.
“Through his continued support of this competition, Richard Bernstein has inspired an entire generation of entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Stephen B. Adams, assistant professor of management and director of the competition. “In so doing, he has earned the gratitude of Salisbury University students, their families, the faculty and staff, and the broader community.”
Nicolette Engler, who graduated in December with a degree in business management, said she plans to conduct market research for her company and hopefully have it up and running by next May. Her idea meal plans and all the necessary ingredients to the condos of Ocean City vacationers when they arrive stemmed from seeing a yacht provision company in Florida.
“We wanted to make it more convenient for travelers so they can spend more time relaxing with their family and not worry about meals,” she said. Her father and step-mother will be part of her management team, serving as financial investors and entrepreneurial mentors.
“He’s been there supporting me with all that I need in this venture,” Engler said. “He has a lot of contacts, which has been very helpful, and it was just rewarding to have him there.”
Pete Engler (’89) invested his prize money in Nacho Pete’s shortly after graduating from SU with a degree in business in administration and a concentration in entrepreneurial studies. For 11 years he worked in the business, eventually opening a second Mexican restaurant.
“I was the first person in my family to go out and open their own business and I didn’t have the benefit of having someone with a business background to help out,” Engler said. “But she will. My wife and I have strong business backgrounds and we will be her mentors. That gives her a great advantage going into this.”
Engler said he’s enjoyed watching the competition grow and develop from its early years when participants had to demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit during an interview with four judges. “Now the students come with these great ideas and business plans, and to see them get up in front of a whole crowd to present and share their vision is just fascinating,” he said.
Nicolette Engler’s plan for the “Ocean City Provision Company” was chosen from among four finalists, who were in turn selected from among this year’s record 51 submissions.
The other finalists were also honored. Vienna resident Jennifer Layton, an MBA student and training coordinator for the Small Business Development Center, won the $1,000 second-place award with her submission, “Layton’s Chance Winery.” It detailed plans to begin growing grapes at her Dorchester County grain farm, turning it into a winery.
Two $250 honorable mention awards were given to Stephanie Parker of Millsboro, DE, for her plan for “Exquisite Occasions,” and to the team of Ryan DeRose of Oswego, NY, Sara Greaver of Baltimore and Adam Rones of Ellicott City for “Visual Assembly.”
Bernstein, a local entrepreneur and former president and CEO of BAI Aerosystems, Inc. in Easton, created the competition to recognize students who develop original, well-researched proposals for a business startup or for the transformation of an existing business. The Franklin P. Perdue School of Business hosts the annual contest, designed to encourage and to provide resources for young entrepreneurs to move forward with their visions. SU graduate and undergraduate students in any program of study may participate.
This year’s judges included Warren Citrin, co-founder of Solipsys Corp. and his latest company, Gloto Corp.; Rafael Correa, president of Machining Technologies (Ma Tech) in Salisbury; James A. Poulos II, registered patent attorney and executive director of the University of Maryland Office of Technology Commercialization; and Edwin A. Rommel III, co-founder and managing partner of Twilley, Rommel & Stephens, P.A.
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.