Of the 29 applications submitted in February, the SD Office of Economic Development accepted 11 business plans for the Statewide student division of the Governor’s Giant Vision Competition held in April. Getting to the competition, though, involved a bit of creative entrepreneurialism.
Universities around the country host business plan competitions, their respective versions of Shark Tank. Prizes for winning range anywhere from hundreds of dollars to ~$1.7 million at Rice University.
Five months before the State competition, students at SDSM&T, including me, competed in the SD Competitive Entrepreneurial Opportunity (CEO) program. Starting at 7:30am on a Saturday, each team had 10 minutes to pitch their product and 5 minutes to field questions. That morning as I stumbled into my business professional dress, nylons and heels, while simultaneously drinking coffee and rehearsing my presentation I thought, “I’ve done this before.” And I had — four years’ worth of weekends on the high school debate team had the same routine.
Brunehilde Natural Gas Storage Solutions, so named for the entrepreneurially minded Norwegian troll, came in 3rd. The judges found my plan interesting, but wholly lacking in economic viability. This I knew, but if a competition for cash prizes exists I will not remain seated.
Once the campus competition ended I had my work cut out for my new and improved business plan. Except I did not have time. In February, right as the business plan applications were due — and my plan needed extensive financial revisions — I had my comprehensive and qualifying exams, dissertation proposal to write/edit/re-write, and proposal defense to prepare. So I punted: my business name changed from Brunehilde to Borglum, I took generous portions of a functioning business’ operating budget for my own, completed the application, and clicked submit.
In March, BNGSS made the cut to compete in April. Mom joined me for the five hour drive to Sioux Falls knowing the week before I drove to Denver for a scholarship luncheon and before that I passed my exams and dissertation proposal presentation. She kept me awake on the drive.
We reached location only to find one other team ahead of us, giving us the pick of tables in the trade show area. I selected the table right next to the Open Division contestants on the off chance that a savvy investor would cotton to my idea and fund my business. This did not happen. It did, however, give me ample selling opportunity with the judges and interested state officials.
The morning of the competition I woke up early and drove straight to Starbucks. Two venti, dark roast coffees of the day, black. Half a venti for Mom, one and a half ventis for me.
The night before ran late as we made a dash to Target to buy candy, display cloths and a power strip. Then, years of selling with marking materials meant I had to put together two-sided handouts for the judges – concise, colorful and content driven. At 11 pm with Mom in tow, I stood at FedEx Kinkos sizing up printouts. My financial statements still did not exist (balance sheet, income statement and cash flow statement), which meant every other pitch component needed to be sterling.
Get dressed, rehearse presentation, drink coffee. On to the competition.
- Orientation meeting – receive time slots for pitch and recording video (see below)
- Meet and greet with judges on trade show floor
- Make pitch to judges
- Record elevator pitch video
- Lunch with competitors
- Pitch to potential investors
- Awards dinner
On our way to the awards dinner, Mom walked me around a corner and into a small room. Sometime in the afternoon she hid a bouquet of pink tulips and a congratulations note. She deserved the tulips.
BNGSS took 3rd again. The SDSM&T 1st place competitor dropped to 4th at the State competition and the team who took 1st at State had not placed at the campus competition. The BNGSS President & CEO went home happy.