Business Plan Competition Adds New Category, Attracts Innovators

May 2010 By

OXFORD, Miss. - The University of Mississippi Business Plan Competition is bringing sexy back.

Besides rewarding best new business plan and best new business concept, this year's competition also featured a best new mobile phone application. Telecommunications company Cellular South approached the UM School of Business Administration about adding the Android smart phone app to the annual competition.

"The smart-phone app category adds a sexy component to the competition," said Bethany Cooper, director of corporate relations and MBA services for the business school. "Cellular South wants students to develop apps as they are hoping to grow the market of their android phones among the college-aged demographic."

The smart-phone competition, which sought app concepts with business plans, not the actual programming code, enabled the competition to expand, attracting computer science and management information systems students to the competition, Cooper said. The winner received a $5,000 award from Cellular South.

The winner was Alyssa Klein, a senior marketing major from Mandeville, La., for her Motorola Android's new Hot Spot application, which gives users something to do in their leisure time.

"Hot Spot allows users immediate access to everything that is going on around them based upon location and preferences," Klein said. "For instance, users searching for the best drink specials in their area will be provided with a convenient and thorough list of the nightly specials at all of their local bars. Users searching for live music will be given a compilation of every concert at every venue in their desired area, and so on and so forth."

The award for best new business plan - also for $5,000 - went to Jack Smothers' plan for e-HRinnovations.com, a Web-based personnel selection service and human resources consulting company.

"We offer a variety of Web-administered tests that are customized to the preferences of our clients," said Smothers, a doctoral student studying management from Huntingdon, Tenn. "Our various scales measure integrity, reliability, dependability, achievement, motivation, teamwork orientation, customer-service orientation, salesperson potential, work endurance and work drive. Based on these tests, we make hiring recommendations to predict which job applicants are most likely to become outstanding employees and which will likely be detrimental to a firm's performance."

Sam Savage received the third $5,000 prize for best new business concept. Savage, a Juris Doctor-MBA candidate, was excited to line his pockets with some "green" by going green with a line of waterless automobile-cleaning products.

"The name of my company is H2Oconserv LLC, and we produce a line of soy-based, biodegradable and nontoxic automotive-detailing products," said Savage of Mobile, Ala. "Two of these products are completely waterless, while the third only uses one gallon of water per wash."

Touted as solving the hassle and constraints associated with traditional car washing, the products not only protect the fragility of our ecosystem by conserving water, but they also offer superior cleaning performance, Savage said.

The prizes for best new business plan and best new business concept were sponsored by the Self Foundation. Finalists pitched their plans April 23, and the winners were announced that day at an entrepreneurial reception sponsored by the Mississippi Small Business Development Center.

Aside from the prize money, the competition also offers a great opportunity to connect with real investors and expand entrepreneurial abilities, Savage said. The sentiment is exactly what business school Dean Ken Cyree envisions.

"Even the students who don't win, I think the real benefit is it forces students to think about their plans carefully and flesh out their ideas," Cyree said. "They also receive valuable experience in pitching their ideas to business professionals for funding, marketing and general concepts. Everything we do in the competition is designed to help the students sharpen their thinking and business skills."

Although the competition is open to any UM student, most of the entries are submitted by business and engineering students.

Students from diverse disciplines, ranging from physics to pharmacy, also submit plans.

Judging of the business plans involves nine categories, including the business description, market opportunities and size, competitive advantage, financial highlights and use of proceeds, to name a few. One judge, Gwin Scott, president of EmergeMemphis and 1987 UM graduate, said he looks for individuals who have products or services that are differentiated and compelling.

"When pitching an idea, I want someone who can articulate his or her idea in a simple way and at the same time speak with conviction and determination on why the idea is so great," Scott said. "A team that has done its homework and research to confidently convey why there is a need for what it is presenting will separate itself as a winner."

"This competition is so inspiring," Cooper said. "It's one of my favorite events in the business school because there's so much energy, hope and promise. We ultimately want the students to be successful, and I'm excited knowing that we're helping give them the tools to do that."