Student business contest seen as an investment

By Mike Helenthal | Nov 3, 2016

MORGANTOWN – Organizers of a statewide business contest for college students hope the experience has economic benefits that extend beyond the classroom.

In its 11th year, the competition encourages students from all over the state to submit actionable business plans, which are then judged by a panel of 60 judges from around the country. Three prizes of $10,000 are given out to winners in three categories.

“The students write out their idea in a template form that answers questions about their idea, marketing, customers, financials, competitors, sustainability, etc.,” Julia Bolt, assistant director of the West Virginia University’s BrickStreet Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, told The West Virginia Record. The BrickStreet Center is part of the university’s College of Business and Economics.

Bolt said the judges’ backgrounds are in business, academics, law and financial sectors, and the contest categories are hospitality and tourism, lifestyle and innovation, and science, technology, engineering and math.

So far, the record 303 submissions have been narrowed down to 10 semifinalists in each of the categories. The contest runs through the school year.

Winning the competition is no easy task, Bolt said, as the competition is fierce. She said the competition has helped start several businesses over the years, and many continue to thrive.

“There has been a wide range of companies that have won in the past,” she said. “We also have a wide range of businesses that are still standing that did not win as well.”

Bolt said past winners have included everything from sports applications to a company that developed a product to cover syringes.

“We have had a brewing company, microgreens, guitar maker, taxicab service, dental products, health foods, welding, horse farm, restaurants,” she said.

But, Bolt said, most importantly, students get a chance to develop their business minds, and receive feedback from professionals already in the business world.

“Participants gets a feel for their business idea through this competition, which helps them launch their businesses,” she said. “The $10,000 is extremely helpful for the launch, but the financial, legal, marketing and business help the teams receive is more valuable.”

Participants must promise to establish their businesses in the state, which Bolt said is another advantage to the competition.

“The economic benefits we will begin to see are businesses being created in multiple areas around the state from both industry and region,” she said. “Also, it is convincing young entrepreneurs to want to stay in West Virginia with all it has to offer. It will be a slow growth, as most businesses are when they are just starting. But as more businesses are created, the more economic growth (occurs) in the state.”

Bolt said the contest continues to grow as the word spreads about the benefits it can bring. Those potential benefits have led her organization to increase its call for submissions.

“This year, I was able to visit 16 of the 29 institutions,” she said. “Most of these institutions allowed me the opportunity to attend classes and speak directly to the students, which in my opinion gave them the jolt they needed to want to participate.”

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