by Brandy Roatsey
Competitors present product launch strategies at uVenture ChallengeExcitement. That was the first impression walking into the presentation room in 55 Park Place. Thirty-eight students, suited up and ready to solve a real-world problem, kept the room humming with anticipation.
They were there for the first-ever uVenture Challenge, a business plan competition presented by the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute (ENI) of Georgia State University’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business in which teams composed of graduate and undergraduate students from the Robinson College and the College of Arts and Sciences commercialized a real product (a child safety device) that the sponsoring company (200 August Street) is bringing to market.
The first test? Learning how to work with teammates one just met. The seven teams were assigned on the spot, which provided an additional problem-solving challenge.
Teams found a way to come together, just as they would in business, to consider manufacturing costs, product functionality and limitations, and buyer perceptions in setting the prices. They took what they learned and crafted business models and marketing strategies to create customer demand. Teams then had to pitch those business plans and strategies, and defend their positions and decisions, in front of their peers and a panel of judges.
“The students really rose to the challenge, attending workshops related to business models, demand creation, and branding, as well as learning entrepreneurial and marketing basics and how to design business plans,” said ENI assistant director, Jackie Davis. “They spent 12 hours together on a Saturday, and some held extra meetings with their team mentor during the week.”
One of the winning team’s members, computer information systems (CIS) major Gabriel Colbert explained: “We did most of our planning over a group text messaging application, met at the library and worked together on Google Docs. It was stressful at times. You had to learn to budge on some of your ideas, use your time wisely, and be a team player. Overall, it was a great experience, even with a slight learning curve at the beginning.”
The pitches were as diverse as the teams, and the six-hour final event was filled with camaraderie. Beyond the cash prizes, $1,500 for first place and $500 for second place, all participants said the true prize was the experience.
ENI Director Richard Welke said the uVenture Challenge exceeded his expectations. “I was quite pleased with the level of interest shown by our students, the business community, and university faculty. To have so many students step up to help solve a real business problem using entrepreneurial principles and practices, and to work so effectively in assigned teams, was exactly what we sought to accomplish.”
“I would definitely do it again; it really made me more open to working for myself or becoming an entrepreneur,” said Colbert. He and the other members of Team Betafish – Kiana Phillip (graduate biology) DeAndre White (managerial sciences), Katherine Wilson (MBA) and Don Yan (CIS) – took first place for their pitch targeting theme parks. The team was mentored by Dixie McCurley, founder and president of Trusted CFO Solutions.Team Marco Polo, composed of Linh Bui (marketing), Mallory Keller (graphic design), Nicholas Swaminathan (philosophy), Mallory Keeler (graphic design) and Wei Xu (actuarial science), took second place with a strategy focused on parents and caregivers of children with autism. Robinson alumnus AC Myers, chief executive officer and founder of the Myers Group, mentored the team.
Participant Ngozidirichukwu “Ngozi” Ihenacho (neuroscience) felt she had a basic knowledge regarding how much hard work goes into having your own business because her brother is an entrepreneur. The competition, she said, “was hard. But it really gave me a much deeper appreciation for the process, and the tangible steps that have to come from that great idea. It was an awesome experience. I want to do it again and play a more active role, now that I’ve learned some of the business terminology.”
Sarah Lamm (MBA) was excited to participate in an entrepreneurial competition at Georgia State having done so during study abroad, with one key difference this time, “Having graduate and undergraduate students on the same team posed a new set of challenges.”
That exposure and the networking opportunities and mentorship that were gained by the participants came from the mentors and judges who, even in their follow-up questions, made the pitches seem as much a brainstorming session as a competition. Five individuals served as judges.
- Jeff Boortz, assistant professor of graphic design, College of Arts and Sciences
- Bill Osterbrock of counsel, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
- Sohail Saidi, chief financial officer, Intech Process Automation
- Tricia Whitlock, director of marketing, Tech Square Labs
- Russ Zukowski, director of financial planning and analysis, Axiall Corporation
In addition to McCurley and Myers, team mentors included the following.
- Rob Burke, managing principal, Sobo Networks
- Mike Eitler, chief operating officer, Elite Flooring
- Jonathan Godbey, clinical assistant professor of finance and founder of uVenture Works
- Scot Safon, chief marketing officer, The Weather Channel
- Orie Ward, senior consultant, Philogic Consulting
The one week uVenture Challenge was sponsored by ENI, Business, the Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design of the College of Arts and Sciences, uVenture Works, Amazon Student and 200 August Street.Learn more about the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute