|Contest Turns Students into Entrepreneurs
November 29, 2007
For the three teams of students that made it to the final round of Calvin’s first bizPlan competition, presenting a full business plan before a panel of six judges was a valuable exercise in what works and what doesn't in the business world.
The contest came about when 2001 Calvin graduate Brett Logan partnered with the Engineering department and Calvin's new Enterprise Center to provide funds for cash prizes. Logan, founder and owner of an aircraft cleaning company, said he hoped to provide more opportunities for students to practice entrepreneurship via the contest.
Steve VanderLeest, chair of the engineering department shares Logan’s vision.
“BizPlan2007, the first business plan competition at Calvin, is just one of several endeavors that have been recently launched at the College to promote entrepreneurism. Many Calvin students are interested in how to put their faith into action through creative innovation, creating jobs, and business leadership,” he said.
Logan served as one of the judges and was joined by a group of businessmen with experience in everything from engineering to real estate law to non-profit management. The variety and depth of experience among the panel members made the time of questions following each presentation both fruitful and intense.
Ryan Roff, a junior business and communications double major from Minneapolis, and project partner Michael Zwier, a junior business and communications double major from Byron Center, came up with a plan to design, manufacture and market a glass salsa container that would make it easier to dip a tortilla chip as the salsa gets lower in the container.
Their company, Adaptable Container, made it to the final round of the bizPlan competition, giving them the opportunity to present their plan to the judges and win one of three cash prizes. The feedback they received, said Roff and Zwier, was direct and valuable.
Panelist Andy De Vries wondered if there really was a need for their product or if it was something that merely made chip-dipping easier for college-aged guys? Randy Veldkamp provided the perspective of a potential investor and questioned whether Adaptable Container's product would bring a return. Leonard Feddema, an engineer and businessman, wondered how the company would be able to design their product with the right kind of materials to ensure both its freshness and safety.
Even with these concerns, the Adaptable Container team walked away with second place and a $500 prize, planning to pursue more options for their product. If nothing comes of the salsa container, the experience gained in the competition will serve them well in other business ventures, said Zwier.
Volturna, a team composed of five members—four electrical engineering majors and one accounting major—took first place in the competition with their plan to develop a wireless multimedia transmitter that would allow people to send multimedia-YouTube videos, online TV episodes, Power Point presentations-from their laptops to a nearby TV screen through a wireless signal.
The engineers are using their idea to both fulfill the requirements for their engineering senior design project and start a small electronics design company. The bizPlan competition was just the right place to test their idea with a knowledgeable business audience team members said.
Volturna member and senior electrical engineering major Gwendolyn Einfeld from Seattle was excited to be part of a competition that fit her interests and career goals.
“Usually competitions in college are for athletes. It’s really nice to have something for engineers and business people to help us improve our skills” said Einfeld.
Besides the experience the bizPlan competition gave to each participant, the prize money—$1500 for first place—won’t hurt either. Volturna team members plan to invest their prize money to develop their business idea further. Once the members graduate in May 2008, they hope to keep their company running by communicating virtually from wherever they are living and working.
The third place team, Judo Modifiable Computing, presented a plan to create affordable, all-inclusive kits to builds one’s own home computer. With lagging home PC sales, the team hopes to rejuvenate the market with an innovative product that will educate users about the components that make up their computer system.
“If someone’s hard drive is fried, they will know enough about their system from putting it together themselves to simply remove the hard drive and install a new one,” said junior business major Michael Smit, a Kalamazoo native.
Judges warned the team of the difficult market they would be entering with their product, competing with big companies like Dell and Apple for profits.
“You guys are choosing to enter the battle of the titans, where the market is very much price-driven,” said Veldkamp.
With the success of the first bizPlan competition, contest organizers plan to hold the second bizPlan competition in the fall of 2008.
Steve Vanderleest, chair of the engineering department, hopes that by offering a business plan writing workshop in the spring of 2008, the competition will draw students from a variety of majors, from English majors hoping to start a proofreading business to recreation majors with a plan to start a personal training service.~by Allison Graff, web communications coordinator
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