RYE CONTEST LANDS BUDDING FASHIONISTA CASH, SHOT AT FAME

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By Rita Poliakov

Before Ryerson’s Business Plan Competition, all Monica Mei Chiu had was a dream and a plan. Now, she has $25,000.

Chiu, the winner of Ryerson’s annual Standard Broadcast Business Plan competition, held last May, is currently gearing up to launch Aime, a comfortable yet stylish clothing line for women.

“This started eight years ago,” Chiu said of her business dream. “But without the competition I’d probably be in Hong Kong right now, working.”

When awarding the winner, Steven Gedeon, one of the judges and an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Ryerson, was very selective.

“We look for the same things as investors would,” Gedeon said. “There were a lot of things that struck us [about Chiu]. She has a passion for what she is doing.”

“This is something she’s been working on a long time, something she was going to do whether we gave her the money or not,” she added.

After her years of preparation, Chiu is planning to hold a preliminary launch, possibly sometime this Spring. Her company, Aime, caters to professional women who want to combine style with comfort.

“To stand out, within fashion, you need something different,” said Chiu. “I don’t see anything like [Aime] on the market.”

One of the deciding factors for Gedeon was Chiu’s resume and knowledge of the industry.

“I’ve done my homework and I know where I’m heading,” said Chiu, who studied business at the University of Toronto before graduating from Ryerson’s fashion communications program this fall.

“[Chiu] has a good understanding of her market,” said David Valliere, an organizer and associate professor of management, entrepreneurship and strategy at Ryerson.

“I was very impressed with her for having fire in the belly.”

Along with the prize money, Chiu and four other finalists get a pre-approved loan of $15,000 and an array of mentors from the field.

“The $25,000 doesn’t necessarily go a long way,” said Gedeon.

“It’s more than just [the money.] The mentors can open doors for [the winners] that may be difficult to open.”

Gedeon, along with the two other judges, is acting as a mentor.

“The mentoring is extremely important,” said Chiu. “This business is so hard, you need someone with experience.”

Ryerson’s business plan competition was started in 2001 when Standard Broadcasting donated $250,000 to the school’s business department.

One student a year, for a period of ten years, will receive the same prize as Chiu: $25,000 as well as the support of Ryerson faculty and staff.

The contest will continue until 2011, but Ryerson is looking to extend the competition beyond that date.

Even with money and mentors, Aime’s success is not guaranteed.

“Most companies fail,” said Gedeon. “That’s a historic part of reality. Many successful, well-financed companies don’t exist right now.”

Still, Chiu is determined.

“I will never give up,” she said. “I really believe in my product. I’ve put in years of research. I’m ready.”

And so, with a flare for fashion and a thirst for success, Chiu is delving into the business world. Gedeon is confident her passion will keep her afloat.

“For Monica, I see success.”

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