By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
The West Virginia Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition has officially launched, with a few exciting changes this year.
The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the sponsor and host of the annual contest, which is open to any full-time students from the state’s 19 four-year colleges and universities. Students can register for the statewide competition, now in its eighth year, at the website be.wvu.edu/bpc, which is up and running.
A new category has been added to the contest this year. In addition to the Lifestyle and Innovation category and the Hospitality and Tourism category, students can now compete in a STEM/Technology category. At the end of the competition, one winner in each category will receive $10,000.
Steve Cutright, director of the WVU BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, explained that the new category has an emphasis on engineering, technology, energy and health care. Developments in these areas are the main economic drivers in the state, and the BrickStreet Center wanted to add a category to reflect that.
It’s important to coordinate the competition with the economic activity in the state as it continues to evolve, which is why the Hospitality and Tourism category was added a couple years ago, he said.
Participating students have to write an executive summary of up to three pages outlining the details of their business concept. They must submit their entries through the PitchBurner system, which is also new to this year’s competition, by noon on Oct. 11.
In the past, a mostly manual process was used to receive the entries, structure them into specific categories, and match them up with the subject matter judges, Cutright said.
But the PitchBurner data management software that the BrickStreet Center purchased allows the students to submit their proposals through a quick, automated process online, he said. Then the center can manage all aspects of the competition, including the judging, scoring and feedback, using the system.
“We put a major investment into that software package,” Cutright said.
Tara St. Clair, office administrator for the BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said this software will simplify the competition for the students as well as the judges.
The entries will be reviewed by a panel of about 100 judges from throughout the state and also across the country. Thirty teams — 10 from each category — will be chosen to move on to the semifinal round, which will be held at Marshall University on Nov. 22.
During this round, the students will submit a feasibility study, give a two-minute elevator pitch, and have a face-to-face interview with judges. Last year, the semifinal round took place at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center in Fairmont’s I-79 Technology Park and was attended by a total of 150 people, including the teams, judges, coaches, sponsors, media and the general public.
Cutright said the goal is to hold the semifinals at a different state school every year, giving each institution the chance to participate and showcase their offerings. The event has become very popular, and the BrickStreet Center has already gotten a request from Shepherd University to host next year’s event.
Following the semifinals, the competition is narrowed down to five teams in each category, or 15 teams total.
In February, those finalist teams will go to WVU for a weekend filled with workshops taught by subject matter experts. The WVU College of Law, which is the legal sponsor for the competition, will also help the students set up their businesses then.
“It’s a very intense Friday evening, all day Saturday affair to help the student go through and get structured and prepared for the final presentation,” Cutright said.
The finals are scheduled for April 4 at WVU. The students will submit their 20-page business plans and give their final presentations in front of panels of industry experts, who will select the three winners.
Each winner will receive a $10,000 cash startup prize, plus legal assistance through the WVU College of Law and accounting assistance through Cava and Banko accounting firm in Bridgeport.
Over the years, the contest has seen significant growth.
In 2006, which was the first year the contest opened up to students statewide, 56 entries were received. That number jumped up to 114 submissions in 2011, and 141 in 2012. Cutright said the goal is to get 160 entries this year, and 200 a year by 2015.
The BrickStreet Center designed and produced a high-quality video explaining the details of the Business Plan Competition and featuring Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and two past participants who have found success. The video is available on the competition’s website, and has also been distributed across the WVU community and to every institution that is eligible to participate.
The center is trying to broaden the awareness of the competition, and hopes to see each school have at least one entry this year, Cutright said.
“We want to thank all the higher education institutions across the state for their support and their participation, and we look forward to working with each of them,” he said.
All of the participants, whether they win or not, leave the competition understanding the process of how to elevate business opportunities and structure a business concept to the point where they can present to investors. They learn how to turn those financial attributes into a real business and start to operate.
Since 2006, 33 new businesses have been started in West Virginia by either winners or non-winners of the competition. Cutright hopes to see 100 new businesses in the state in the next five years through the contest.
“By the creation of new business across the state, it will enhance employment, it will enhance economic development initiatives,” he said.
The competition has seen great involvement from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Small Business Development Centers and the West Virginia Department of Commerce, Cutright said.
He added that WVU is focusing on innovation and commercialization. Through the efforts of the BrickStreet Center, the president’s office and the research office, the university wants to have greater influence and offer more assistance to winners of the competition, Cutright said.
With the creation of the STEM/Technology category, the competition is looking for subject matter experts in those particular areas to serve as judges. The competition is also still open to sponsors. Anyone who is interested can contact St. Clair at 304-293-7221.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.