Entrepreneurial contest brings in varied competition

Ingrid Skjong

With golf’s popularity at an all-time high, Scott Hull recognized the market potential for a golf kit designed with the beginner in mind.
The second-year graduate student, along with his four partners, entered his “Try-Golf Starter System” in a University co-sponsored business planning competition. The kit — which includes an instructional video, clubs and a free lesson — could earn the group a $25,000 first prize.
But Hull will face competition from other innovative entrepreneurs participating in the first-ever University contest. Entrepreneurs from inside and outside the University are eligible.
“We’re providing a whole lot of coaching to help people develop their ideas into business opportunities,” said Richard Cardozo, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Carlson School of Management.
An essential part of the contest’s mission is to educate participants about what makes a successful, innovative business plan. Win or lose, organizers say entrants will learn valuable business techniques through several scheduled free seminars.
Although other schools, such as the University of Oregon and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, hold similar competitions as classroom exercises, the University’s approach is unique in two ways.
Four local companies — St. Paul Venture Capital, KPMG Peat Marwick, LLP Riverside Bank and Dorsey & Whitney — and seven business partners are donating cash and services. The partnership with outside businesses provides a less academic and more “real world” experience, Cardozo said.
The concept of a joint endeavor between the University and Minnesota businesses was the idea of event chairman Michael Gorman.
Gorman, a partner with St. Paul Venture Capital, considers the University a major part of Minnesota’s business climate.
“The University has played a key role in helping to create some of the region’s great business successes,” Gorman said. “This plays some small role in improving the entrepreneurial climate of the University and the state.”
Another feature unique to this contest is its inclusion of entrepreneurs from around the state along with University community members. Other contests are limited to business students.
John Benzick, a first-year graduate student in the Carlson School, is no stranger to the trials of product marketing. He spent last summer pitching to potential investors his idea of a retail food concept — a hybrid between a grocery store and restaurant offering carry-out gourmet meals, breads and produce.
Through his participation in the contest, Benzick said he hopes to benefit from the support network built through the Carlson School and from additional product exposure.
“It’s really interesting when you make a decision to act on your idea,” Benzick said.
Contest organizers assembled a panel of judges representing a variety of business experience. Carlson School of Management Dean David Kidwell and a group of business representatives will judge the ideas on feasibility and presentation.
Winners will be announced May 18 at the Carlson building with former U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale making the keynote speech.
Prospective entrepreneurs aren’t the only ones being judged. The success of this year’s competition will determine if it becomes an annual event.
“This is a world-class university,” Gorman said. “Let’s make this a world-class competition.”