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W&L Holds Second Annual Business Plan Competition

Businesses targeting college students and young professionals figured prominently among the business plans presented at the fall semi-final round of Washington and Lee University’s Business Plan Competition (BPC). Teams of W&L seniors presented their ideas to a panel of judges, mostly University alumni, with experience as entrepreneurs, in private equity or venture capital.

The students’ ideas included a business that facilitates buying and selling textbooks online, a smart phone application for an interactive campus map, tailored suits for college students and a mobile vendor of low-calorie breakfasts and lunches.

“I think all the business plans are very good ideas,” said Jeffrey Shay, the Johnson Professor of Entrepreneurship and Leadership at W&L’s Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics and the organizer of BPC.

Members of the team that presented a business plan for The Helm said that their idea came from a desire to do something with technology in an area they know best—education. Their aim is to use GPS technology to provide a smartphone-friendly alternative to a university’s website, providing students, visitors and members of a university community with an interactive campus map as well as up-to-date information about campus events.

“Like the name implies, it really is everything you need for college life in a single application, and it’s specific to each campus,” said team member Nicholas Lanoue, a business administration and German double major. “There isn’t anything like this currently out there. There are some apps that have basic information, or just the university’s website, but nothing that lets you pick and choose content and gives you an interactive map.”

Alex Shabo, a business administration and psychology double major, said that the team used Lanoue’s financial expertise to push the process forward as well as the presentation abilities of Corinne Smith, a business administration major who plans to work in marketing. “I think we all learned group dynamics and how to work best in a team, capitalize (I don’t think she means monopolize) on our strengths and get a great business plan out there,” said Shabo.

Another business plan that targeted college students was Sharra, a virtual service network for student textbook sales. It allows students to purchase or sell used textbooks online, eliminating the cost and inconvenience of both shipping and high transaction fees. In presenting its idea, the team called attention to students’ frustration with the high cost of textbooks and the inability to resell them for an amount close to the purchase price.

The business plan for Patrick Anthony Suits targeted college students and recent graduates by offering custom-made professional apparel through a website. The students laid out the case for the business by citing a market research survey that showed that more than 63 percent of young collegians stated that they only owned one suit or did not have one at all, and that 73 percent anticipated being required to wear suits in their future employment.

Lo Cal Wraps, an express mobile vendor providing low-calorie breakfasts and lunches, targeted the 129,300 young professional adults living in Boston. The business plan showed that young working people had, on average, 35.5 minutes for lunch during their workday, and often choose where they eat based on how much time it will take.

The proposed business name To Do Less also focused on career professionals with minimal leisure time and high disposable income by bundling three commonly used services—delivery dry cleaning, delivery grocery goods and home cleaning—while keeping prices well below those of concierge services.

One of the business plans that did not target college students and young professionals was Bullseye Tracking — a GPS tracking chip in a shoe insole that allows parents to track young children or caregivers to track people with Alzheimers. “Based on the feedback we received from the judges, we think it is actually a viable business plan,” said Austin Gideon, an accounting and business administration double major, and a member of the Bullseye team. “We all had faith in it from the very beginning, but it’s nice to hear from judges who are a step away from the business that they also support the idea.”

The team included Katie Hatfield, a business administration major, who pointed out that every 40 seconds a child is reported missing in the United States and that 5.2 million citizens have Alzheimers. “So out of our two customer bases, millions of people could benefit from this product. I think it’s definitely viable,” she said.

Matt Gossett, a business administration and French double major and the third member of the team, agreed and said that in preparing their business plan they talked with a manufacturer of insoles in China, a GPS chip manufacturer in San Francisco and a distribution warehouse in Missouri. “There’s no product out there that addresses the need for tracking in a discrete manner, so we would apply for a patent from day one,” he said. Hatfield agreed that the patent would be a deciding factor in whether they would choose to enter the market.

Shay said he would be surprised if any of the plans were actually launched as businesses because W&L’s entrepreneurship program is in only its second year. “Typically, you start to see students launch businesses when an entrepreneurship program has been around for four years,” he said. “That’s because the seed needs to be planted when students are in their first or sophomore year so that by the time they get to their senior year they have a notebook of ideas. They keep working on one idea, take the entrepreneurship class and then go out and try to launch the business. These students in the competition are fairly passionate about their ideas, but being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean every idea is going to be the golden one. Otherwise everybody would do it.”

The Business Plan Competition is part of the capstone course on entrepreneurship. and Shay explained that the main purpose is for students to learn how to integrate everything they’ve learned into a cohesive argument for the viability of a particular business idea. “It’s certainly opened their eyes as to how much they really know — whether it’s organizational behavior, human resource management, marketing, finance or other areas,” he said.

BPC judge Courtney Stovall, a 1999 W&L alumna who founded BounceBack.com, said “whether or not the students actually put their own money into working on these businesses, their passion is amazing. They’ve clearly put a lot of time into it and, watching these presentations, I’m just blown away at the level of detail. The teamwork they’ve shown and the different industries they’ve taken on have been really impressive. I think the ideas are great too.”

The final business plan, Clean Screen, addressed the need for convenient access to sunscreen at golf clubs, sailing clubs, resorts, etc., by providing innovative refillable large capacity dispensers. “The product also includes a dispenser that neutralizes sunscreen so the consumer’s hands aren’t left slippery, making it difficult to play sports like tennis and golf,” said Shay.

In describing the students’ work, Shay said he was enthusiastic about fusing a liberal arts education with a business school education. “On the one side you have the creativity and innovation from the liberal arts, and on the other you have the analytical tools, models and everything else you learn from the business school. You put them together and it should be the perfect formula for great business ideas and great teams,” he said.

A second semi-final of the Business Plan Competition will be held in April.  Shay will post online ten-minute videos of the final business plans selected and will ask alumni to select three winners who will be announced during the William’s School annual awards ceremony before graduation.

Details of the Business Plan Competition can be found at  http://entrepreneurship.wlu.edu/entrepreneurship_program/co-curricular/business-plan-competition/

Details of the judges are at http://entrepreneurship.wlu.edu/entrepreneurship_program/co-curricular/business-plan-competition/distinguished-judges/

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Sarah Tschiggfrie
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