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Wisconsin School of Business Relaunches its Business Plan Competition

by John Surdyk Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Producing and selling caffeinated mints. Generating cost-effective, off-grid solar power in Sub-Saharan Africa. Serving up sartorial suggestions on the go in a mobile app. Using unmanned aerial drones to monitor leaks in gas pipelines.

Those were just a few of the dozens of product and service ideas pitched by more than 110 students across dozens of teams in the 2015 G. Steven Burrill Business Plan Competition held at the Wisconsin School of Business.

What will students enter into the competition when it relaunches under its new moniker next spring?

“It’s hard to predict,” says John Surdyk, the Director of the Initiative for Studies in Transformational Entrepreneurship (INSITE) that coordinates the event in partnership with the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship. “There’s a tremendous variety in the entries we’ve seen students submit over the past 18 years. We attract students from more than 30 majors, and they generate incredibly creative solutions to wide range of problems they’ve observed in the marketplace or studied in the lab.”

Competition alumni include startup companies Per Blue, EatStreet, and Chefs for Seniors. While not every student will launch a startup, others are further along in developing new products and services. Companies coming out of the contest have been admitted to accelerator programs across the country, raised significant investment from venture capital firms in the Midwest to scale their operations, and some have even sold product lines — or even their firms — for millions or tens of millions of dollars.

The new business plan competition will welcome students — at the undergraduate and graduate levels and from all degree programs — to compete for cash prizes and services from incubators, accelerator programs, and other campus partners. Students participating in the event will receive feedback leading up to the competition on their business models, pitch decks, and intellectual property strategies.

Judges from the community will evaluate students’ plans to move products and services into the market with an appropriate business model and plan for growth. Judges will also weigh the evidence that a students’ proposed products and services are genuinely desirable in real-world settings where students collect data using surveys, signups, sales, and other testing methods to validate their theories.

“Things don’t always go according to plan, however,” cautions Surdyk. “Students will need to think critically about a worst-case scenario and present a plan of action or pivot responding to such a “shock” to show their ready to grapple with the uncertainty entrepreneurs face every day.”

To prepare for the contest, students will be encouraged throughout the year to avail themselves of campus resources such as the Small Business Development Center, WARF’s Entrepreneurons events, the Design Lab, and other campus contests to refine their ideas, develop prototypes, and craft appropriate business models for their venture ideas.

The competition will be held on Friday, April 28, 2017, at the Wisconsin School of Business. 

Learn more on Facebook at @WSBCompetition.