Students enter business plan competition

If you are a music fan, then you may want to check out a UM business students’ website,“Bits and Watts,” to sample the works of artists who have upcoming shows in a given city.

“There is a totally free, comprehensive live-music calendar integrated with music,”said senior Brian Beers, part of a group that launched the site in August 2009 in his hometown of Philadelphia. “Once we perfect our model in Philadelphia, we plan on covering cities across the nation.”

Sean Skelton, also a senior in School of Business, uses music differently in his company “SoundMind Wellness Systems,” which is a medical application for audio-visual therapy.

“We will create undeniable proof for the ‘Mind-Body Connection’ through biological measurement criteria such as pulse and electroencephalography,” he said.“Customers will not only enjoy a therapeutic half-hour of sound and color, but also they will learn strategies for improving their long-term health.”

Beers and Skelton confidentially brought their business plans into one of the most competitive contests on the campus, the Business Plan Competition, which started last September.

This annual Entrepreneurship Competition was established in 2003 and is open to all UM students. One of the goals is to help prepare students for the real world, and allows them to apply what they learn in the classroom to create ideas for viable business.

The winners of the competition, which has separate tracks for graduate and undergraduate students, share a total of $36,000 in prizes, donated by alumni, which could help them start their own business initiative.  Among last year’s winner, MBA student Brian Rechtman and his entry Blue Tree Marketing took home $6,000 and a first place in the High-Potential Ventures category. Undergraduate students Matt Heckert and Stew Berkeley also won in that category with  SurveyOasurus.

There were 70 business concepts submitted initially to the competition in September. Thirty were selected as semi-finalists, and the students were invited to submit detailed business plans for the finalist presentations after work with assigned mentors, including business executives, entrepreneurs and venture investors from across the country. The business plans can be for existing companies or new ones they want to start.

“We expanded the number of finalists from the total of 18 teams last year to the total of 30 teams this year, which include 10 graduate teams and 20 undergraduate teams,” said Kenneth A. Colwell, director of entrepreneurship programs in the School of Business. “This change allows more contestants can get involved, work and learn with the professional mentors, and turn out with higher quality.”

For students, working with a professional mentor is a valuable opportunity to interact with the experts and develop key skills that should help them to start successful businesses in the future.

Besides the lure of the prize money, Beers said he chose to participate in the competition because he is passionate about his business and wanted to dedicate more time to writing a formal plan.

“I’m very happy that the competition has allowed me to start a conversation with my business-plan mentor, he said. “He is a very successful businessman. So it’s great that I can bounce ideas off of him and get immediate feedback.”

Colwell said the competition is a positive influence on the contestants. It encourages students to start their business after the competition without spending a lot of time creating a business plan on their own. In addition, the experience also looks good on their resumes.

“I would strongly encourage somebody to participate in the competition {next fall],” Beers said. “Writing a business plan really makes you organize your ideas and put effort into the research. After it’s completed, you have a really good notion of whether your business concept could be successful.”.

Colwell strongly encourages more non-business school students to take part in the competition in the future. He believes non-business school students will bring more ideas from different fields. He also encouraged all students to go to The LaunchPad in Toppel Career Center for more resources of entrepreneurship.

This year’s winners will be announced at Business Plan Competition banquet on April 9.

Danni Zhao may be contacted at