Contest helps U alums, students become entrepreneurs

The competition helps participants learn the process of creating a professional business outline.

by Kristin Frey

After graduating from Boston University with a biomedical engineering degree and working 11 years in the field, Susan Malaret decided to focus on the business aspect of her expertise.

Last year, the Carlson School of Management graduate student helped a local medical company develop a business plan for its new product. Her efforts garnered her third place in the Carlson School’s business competition in 2003.

Formerly known as Gopher the Gold, the New Venture Challenge is an annual competition that pits the business plans of University students and alumni from any of its colleges against one another for monetary prizes.

The school is accepting submissions for this year’s competition, which will be judged in April.

The competition has five categories, the business plan with the most positive social impact and the best growth plan for an existing company. Participants can win more than one category. In addition, the winners – instead of the companies they participate with – will receive the prizes.

Category winners will receive cash prizes between $1,000 and $5,000.

Anyone with a University affiliation can participate in the competition, Carlson School administrative aide Elaine Nissen said. That includes existing businesses with University alumni or students operating in student organizations.

“We are trying to get students from all over campus from much of the colleges to participate,” Nissen said.

The competition helps people go through the process of creating a professional business outline, an “important ingredient in being a successful entrepreneur,” said Roy Wetterstrom, undergraduate entrepreneurial studies director.

For those who need help developing their plans, the Carlson Venture Enterprise program connects participants with alumni for mentoring and workshops, he said.

“Our idea is that there are people that have an idea but don’t know how to write a business plan, or people that want to be on the team that don’t have an idea,” Wetterstrom said.

Malaret said the alumni connection provided valuable networking opportunities.

“Without that experience I wouldn’t have been on the radar screen where people would recommend me for positions,” she said.

Participation in the contest also provided insight into running a business, she said.

“I have always been interested in entrepreneurship and start-up companies,” she said. “This gave me an opportunity to see how everything works.”

Thirty groups submitted entries last year, Nissen said. The school expects at least 75 individual

entries this year in a variety of genres.

“We expect to see everything from guide businesses in Minnesota to high-tech medical,” she said.

Submissions for this year’s competition are due March 22. In April, submissions will be reviewed and commented on by bankers, venture capitalists and other professionals, Wetterstrom said.