Chamber's Stars

Local gay entrepreneurs win GWU business competition

The George Washington University Business Plan Competition, which awards $50,000 annually to students, faculty or alumni, named its 2011 winners last week – and the LGBT community can take some pride in the results.

The top spot went to ”Lead Driver,” a team of four that has developed software that’s made car shopping easier at the Kansas and Missouri dealerships where it’s been tested. And of those four, two belong to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce: Thomas Sanchez, 30, and Anthony Shop, 28, a Kansas couple relocated to D.C. The two are also members of the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC), which last year awarded Sanchez the group’s Emerging Entrepreneur Award. Sanchez has since joined the CAGLCC board.

”We developed Lead Driver software to help solve a problem,” says Shop, just days away from earning his MBA at GWU. ”People are taking longer and longer to make a decision to buy a car. We developed software that uploads information from [the dealer's] inventory system and generates a custom brochure for the customer.”

That resulting brochure, Dealer Print, matching inventory to a customer’s specifications, can then be uploaded and shared online. While Shop provides business and communication acumen, and Sanchez – founder of the D.C.-based Social Driver social-networking firm – has the software smarts, their longtime friend Daniel Zaslavsky, 28, is the Midwest auto dealer from back home — a longtime friend, and also gay. The fourth member of the team, on travel in Europe when the award was announced, is David Raffel. Shop says Raffel, who is not gay, acted as a sort of mentor to the younger three entrepreneurs.

Beyond the prestige of taking the top spot in this third annual contest, the Lead Driver team also won $25,000 to be used in their business.

”Everyone keeps asking, ‘Are you going to take us out to drinks?”’ Shop jokes. ”This is seed funding. Our business plan has spending requirements greater than $25,000. We can either seek additional investment or modify the plan and try to spend less.”

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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