By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
Through the West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition, students across the state are pursuing their business dreams.
The 10 finalists in the 2012-2013 contest were announced in the first week of December following round two of the competition, which was held Nov. 13 at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park. The statewide contest, in its seventh year, is hosted and funded by the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics.
At the end of September, 141 teams — made up of full-time students from four-year colleges and universities across West Virginia — submitted summaries of their business ideas. The 51 entries in the Hospitality and Tourism category and 90 entries in the Lifestyle and Innovation category came from 11 schools, which was the largest participation in the history of the competition.
The entries were cut down to 20 semifinalists — 10 in each category — who were invited to compete in round two.
Those students traveled to Fairmont, where they gave elevator pitches for their business plans in front of a panel of judges and then went through individual interviews with the judges. The teams also submitted a seven-page feasibility study for the semifinals, which were hosted by Fairmont State University.
After that round, five teams in each category were chosen to move forward in the contest. Those students are from West Virginia University, Glenville State College and Concord University.
In the Lifestyle and Innovation category, the top five are Casey Morgan Tibolet from WVU with her business Crown Pointe Outfitters; Rachael Fetty and Caleb Greathouse, Glenville State College, EZ Reader; Charles R. Cline, WVU, Precision Tools; Randi Dove, WVU, Stirrup Bands; and Kelsey Delaplaine, Hannah Plaugher and Matt Przybysz, WVU, Techquine Inc.
The semifinalists in the Hospitality and Tourism category include Joshua Ramsey and Preston L. Veal, Glenville State College, Delivery 2U; Eric Watkins, WVU, Dub V Safe Ride; Gaylynn Johnson, WVU, Mountain State Hydroponics; Robbie Parker, Concord University, Planet; and Steve Neff and Corey Hinterer, WVU, Two Guys and a Pig.
Steve Cutright, director of WVU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, located in the College of Business and Economics, said he is very pleased with the work he has seen from the students so far.
“The ideas this year were excellent,” he said. “They have some innovative processes that they’re looking at.”
The competition is a chance for the students to incorporate what they have learned throughout college into their business plans in order to produce viable and sustainable businesses, Cutright said.
From Jan. 16 through Feb. 6, the remaining teams will participate in four seminar presentations via Wimba, which is an electronic distance learning classroom, he said. These sessions, which will be transmitted digitally from Morgantown to each of the schools, will teach the students about legal forms and business registration, market research, financial statements and basic business startup.
Cutright said the finalists will then take part in a weekend workshop at WVU on Feb. 1 and 2. The workshop will teach the students all the details about putting their business plans together and allow them to talk to business people from private industry.
Guest speakers will include Kristina Oliver, state director of the West Virginia Small Business Development Center; Judy McCauley, West Virginia district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Ed DeCosta, founder of Catalyst Associates; Calvin Barker Jr., president of BB&T’s West Virginia North Region; and Dusty Gwinn, executive vice president of legal affairs for Mountain State University.
In addition, the WVU College of Law’s Entrepreneurship Law Clinic — through Dr. Patricia Lee — will assist the finalists in applying for and filing the legal documents for their businesses, Cutright said.
“It’s a pretty intense weekend for the students to get all the training they need,” he said.
Cutright said the teams’ final business plans are due by March 18. PDF copies of the plans will be sent to the judges, who will have two weeks to review them and compile their questions before the final round.
On Friday, April 5, the students will come to Morgantown for dinner at the Waterfront Place Hotel and also a rehearsal and reception, he said. The final round of judging will take place the following morning, Saturday, April 6, at WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center.
The teams will give their business presentations in front of judges from across the state and nation and will also be interviewed by the judges. A total of 16 judges — eight for each category — have been selected to participate, Cutright said.
From that process, two teams — one in the Hospitality and Tourism category and one in the Lifestyle and Innovation category — will be named as the winners and receive a total prize package worth about $16,000 apiece, he said. That includes a $10,000 cash startup award for each, plus a bundle of startup services valued at $6,000.
Cutright said Steptoe & Johnson has donated legal services. Cava & Banko is providing for the winners’ accounting needs, and InnerAction Media is taking care of the advertising. SBASECAMP is also offering incubator space to the winning teams.
The competition started 10 years ago as a WVU-only initiative, and in 2006 it went statewide. The contest supports all colleges in West Virginia and has led to many successful new businesses in the state.
“We have realized about 27 startups over the last 10 years since we’ve been in this process, many of them still operating in the state of West Virginia,” Cutright said.
Out of those 27 businesses, almost half were not winners of the competition, he said. This shows how beneficial the contest is for all participants, whether they win or not.
“Even the non-winners get the experience of the feasibility study and the business plan to start up a new business,” Cutright said. “Whether they win or not is not really indicative of the quality of their business, because all 10 are high-quality businesses.”
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.