A Corporate Research Center company is encouraging college students to develop original business ideas.
The Virginia Tech KnowledgeWorks company is currently holding its third annual competition for Tech students and students from the surrounding Virginia and North Carolina areas for the best original business plan.
When KnowledgeWorks was originally born, it was considered an “incubator” that helped new businesses grow and develop. However, it soon became a “preincubator” that helped new businesses in the preparation and execution phases.
“Starting a new business is hard to do, and it’s better to do it cheaply. When you are young, you don’t have as much responsibility, so you can focus all your energy into the new company,” said Jim Flowers, director of KnowledgeWorks. “Our job is to help companies launch and grow.”
One way that KnowledgeWorks seeks to foster new companies is through its annual competition.
In January, any full-time student is invited to write a one-page paper regarding their business concept.
“The bullet points are what matters,” Flowers said. “This paper is kept to the concept strategy.”
Judges review these papers, and if a concept has reasonable chances to work, the contestant is invited to submit a five-page paper. Judges select four or five teams to be finalists.
Each finalist must make a presentation that will be judged. A main thing the judges look at is how well the team presents. Contestants are also encouraged to keep their concept and business plan to its simplest form.
“A good idea (that is) badly presented may not come across,” Flowers said. “If you complicate something too early, you might waste energy on something that doesn’t even matter.”
Presentations are limited to a 10 to 12 slide powerpoint presentation. The presentation must be between 10 and 15 minutes long, and there is a 10 minute question and answer session afterward.
There are two contests: one for Tech students and one for non-Tech students. This year, there are five Tech teams and four regional teams.
The winner of each contest receives $5,000 and has the opportunity to use the KnowledgeWorks facilities to develop their company.
Jordan Jackson, a senior industrial design major at Tech, is competing with four team members. Their company, Kiwee Stroller Company, produces one stroller that combines jogging and travel. They have a website where purchasers can add accessories according to their needs.
The most difficult thing they have encountered while preparing for the presentation has been gearing their products toward a business and market-oriented audience. As of right now, they have no definite plans for the prize money.
Similarly, Sam Sink, a graduate student from Appalachian State University, and his partner have a company called Closed Loop Energy, LLC. This business is designed to generate electricity using anaerobic digesters on hog farms. It is structured so that it creates carbon offset credit and renewable energy credit. The most preparation they have undergone is formulating a business plan.
Sarah Hostyk is a senior from Appalachian State. She has entered the competition alone. Her company, Dear Career, LLC, is a website that uses visual interface and a profile to match job recruiters and seekers. It incorporates elements based on values.
“My biggest challenge has been trying to get a business idea out in 15 minutes,” Hostyk said. “Trying to narrow things down is hard.”
There are no grade requirements regarding who can or cannot participate in the competition. The average age of the team must be no more than 25.
The two winners of the $5,000 prize can compete for a $25,000 prize in August. The two winners will compete against teams from other countries that won an identical competition in their own country. In addition the $25,000 prize, there are two additional $5,000 prizes awarded. Last year, there were eight teams. This year, 10 to 12 are expected.
In addition to the monetary prize, a traveling trophy is awarded to the international winner. This past year, it resided in Belfast, Ireland.
KnowledgeWorks is able to mentor entrepreneurs and help them throughout their development.
“Now is a great time to be an entrepreneur,” Flowers said. “You have so many resources that people did not have 15 years