Competition provides critical look at student business plans

May 3, 2013  |   |  1 Comment
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University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa student Larry Martin stood before a crowded private room in a posh country club, pitching a business plan for SmarTummy. Martin’s startup company aiming to market a high-tech abdominal simulator that will be used to train doctors, nurses and paramedics.

This was not a presentation before a group of venture capitalists. It was actually the finals of the UH Business Plan Competition by the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE), at the Shidler College of Business.

“What we are really trying to do is teach them how you begin to start a business,” said Susan Yamada, PACE executive director. “So when you actually try to do it, chances are they’ll succeed and not fail.”

The annual team competition for UH students started in 1999. The end goal is to give budding entrepreneurs the necessary tools and skills to maneuver the extremely tricky, business planning process.

“What it takes, how do you recognize appropriate markets, how large are the markets, where does you product fit into it, what kind of pricing is it going to be, the financials,” said Yamada. “The underlying factor is entrepreneurial thinking. How do you think outside the box and then how do you begin to actually implement.”

Program organizers say the semester-long program takes a hands-on learning approach to something that is very difficult to teach in a standard classroom setting. It includes two daylong business plan boot camps and each entry goes through several rounds of judging by a variety of respected professionals.

“Lawyers, investors, bankers,” said Martin. “And really, it helps you refine your business plan, your product and presentation from start to finish to where we made it today in finals, so it is a great learning experience.”

Out of 40 entries, four teams advanced to the 2013 finals.

The finalists each gave a 10-minute long presentation before a panel of four judges, followed by a rigorous question-and-answer period.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog competition,” said Yamada. “I mean, everybody is not a winner, right? There are winners and losers and it mimics real life, because not everybody is going to get funding from the venture capitalists. Most people are not going to make it.”

Chenoa Farnsworth, the managing director of Blue Startups and competition judge, agrees:

“It’s a great test of what it would be like to really be in business because you get the positive and negative feedback both and you really have to think on your feet.”

You don’t have to be a business major or graduate student to enter.

Martin is an engineering student at UH. His startup, SmarTummy, took first place winning $10,000. More importantly, the fledgling company is now better prepared for the extremely difficult process, of turning a business plan into a business reality.

“It’s a big accomplishment for our team, for our company, the prize money, the networking,” said Martin. “The amount of opportunities that you can take advantage of as a student at UH Mānoa, are endless.”

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