By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
The West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition is again helping to create businesses and positive economic development throughout the state.
The competition was started 10 years ago within the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship as a WVU-only initiative.
In 2006, the contest went statewide and opened up to full-time students at all four-year colleges and universities across West Virginia, said Steve Cutright, director of the center and faculty professor in the Department of Management and Industrial Relations.
He said the statewide competition, now in its seventh year, always kicks off in August as soon as the school year begins. Sept. 28 was the deadline to submit a business summary of no more than five pages for the first round.
A total of 141 business plans — 51 in the Hospitality and Tourism category and 90 in the Lifestyle and Innovation category — came from 11 schools, which was the largest participation in the history of the competition.
For the 2011-2012 competition, which was a record year itself, 117 entries were received from nine schools, Cutright said.
“It’s a substantial increase, and we are continuing to substantially grow the Business Plan Competition throughout the state of West Virginia,” he said.
Cutright said the goal is to someday have at least one team participate from each of the 21 four-year colleges and universities in the state.
This year’s 141 entries were judged by 60 individuals who work in private industry and academia around the country, from West Virginia to California, he said. The judges scored the business plans, and the College of Business and Economics did a statistical recap of the scores to select 20 semifinalists — 10 in each category.
Teams from Concord University, Glenville State College, Marshall University, Shepherd University and West Virginia University will go on to the second round of the competition, Cutright said.
The semifinalists in the Hospitality and Tourism category include Gaylynn Johnson, WVU, Mountain State Hydroponics; Eric Watkins, WVU, Dub V Safe Ride; Robbie Parker, Concord, Planet; Joshua Ramsey and Preston L. Veal, Glenville, Delivery 2U; Steve Neff and Corey Hinterer, WVU, Two Guys and a Pig; Stephanie Crum and Joe Bender, Shepherd, Wisteria Gardens; Andrea Haymond, Shepherd, Ivory Lace; Sam Frazier, Marshall, Tacos Nocturnos; Ruben Delgado Powell, Shepherd, Free Range Goodness; and Mitch Wagoner, WVU, Wagoner Shrimp Farm.
In the Lifestyle and Innovation category, the top 10 were Randi Dove, WVU, Stirrup Bands; Ben Clark and Joseph Tennant, WVU, C&T Heat Seeker Technologies; Charles R. Cline, WVU, Precision Tools; Casey Morgan Tibolet, WVU, Mobile Couture; Hannah Plaugher and Kelsey Delaplaine, WVU, Adjust-a-Jump (Techquine Inc.); Thomas Schenkel, WVU, Holy Cow Livestock Sales; Stephen T. Bishop, Marshall, Temporalis Games; Codi Osborne, WVU, ConveniaCase; Racheal Fetty and Caleb Greathouse, Glenville, EZ Reader; and Janie Beale, WVU, Easy Feeder.
The semifinals are being hosted by Fairmont State University at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park on Nov. 13.
During this round, the teams will give two-minute elevator pitches for their business plans in front of a panel of 20 judges. They will also go through individual interviews with the judges and submit a seven-page feasibility study. All three components will be judged, and the teams will be reduced to 10 finalists — five in each category, Cutright said.
Between November and April, the finalists will go through workshops, classroom curricula and professional training seminars to develop a full business plan with a maximum of 20 pages, he said. The final round of judging will take place in April, and two teams — one from each category — will be selected as the winners.
Each winning team will receive a $10,000 cash prize to help start their business. They will also get start-up accounting, legal, and media and advertising services and space in the WVU Business Incubator for one year, which is worth more than $6,000, Cutright said.
He said the competition brings out business ideas that are in various stages.
“Every year we have a select few that we believe have global potential. We have several businesses that we believe are sustainable, and we have a large number of ideas that we believe are viable for businesses but are in their early stage and need further development,” Cutright said.
The teams receive support from coaches and mentors along the way.
Cutright, who became the director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in June, said he is ready to contribute his own knowledge to the competition and assist students to make sure they use the best practices in their start-up ventures. He has been a self-employed business person for many years, and has a consulting business that works with private industry and start-up companies.
Students who participate in the competition benefit in many ways, he said.
“It teaches students how to evaluate business opportunities, how to clearly define them, and the requirements to start up and operate a small business,” Cutright said.
Right now, the competition is 100 percent funded by the WVU College of Business and Economics. But as the competition grows, the college is looking to attract funding support from corporate and state entities to help sustain these efforts, he said.
“WVU is committed to economic development initiatives through the College of Business and Economics and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” Cutright said. “We are working closely with state and local governments as well as private industry to make these businesses come to operation within the state of West Virginia.”
Any businesses interested in participating as a corporate sponsor for the West Virginia Statewide Business Plan Competition can contact Cutright at 304-293-7861 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Jessica Borders at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.