For this month's cover story, we profiled four start-ups and asked four seasoned entrepreneurs to evaluate their business plans. (Vote for your favorite by writing us at

When looking for entrepreneurs to write about, we were particularly drawn to people who had experienced a stroke of luck. In the case of Gauri Nanda, luck came in the spring of 2005, in the form of dozens of blog postings.

Nanda was pursuing a master's degree at MIT's Media Lab, and had created a cute robotic alarm clock for a class project. The robot, which she named Clocky, was a large cylinder covered in shag carpeting that rolled itself off your bedside table when you hit the snooze button. She posted a photograph of her prototype with a description on a course website in late 2004, and forgot about it. Months later, tech bloggers stumbled onto the website and posted about Clocky, which, by then, was tucked away in her closet. When Good Morning America called, she had to scramble to get the prototype ready for TV.

By the summer, Nanda was inundated with press inquiries (including one from this reporter) and from people wanting to buy her little alarm clock. She faced a tough decision: license the product or start a company. Having watched her parents struggle to run a small weekly newspaper, she'd never wanted to be an entrepreneur. But when faced with the prospect of giving up control of her invention, she couldn't let it go. So she stuck out on her own, flying to Hong Kong last year to set up production. Thanks to the power of outsourcing (and to help from her parents and friends), she's been able to reach profitability before hiring a single full time employee. Now the challenge is turning a compelling product into a compelling brand.

Check out her plan, read Crate and Barrel founder Gordon Segal's thoughts (he's optimistic), and weigh in.