Business Plan Competitions Help Stoke Entrepreneurship in Arkansas (Guest Post)
September 9th, 2015 by Shannon Frazeur
Shannon Frazeur, project specialist at the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, contributed this post to L2L.
The Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition is the best real-world experience a student will receive before graduating, says Stuart McLendon of CFO Network. After serving as a Governor’s Cup judge for several years, McLendon is stepping to the other side of the competition for 2016 as an adjunct instructor and advisor for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock teams.
In 2001, the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation launched the Governor’s Cup for Arkansas’ two- and four-year college and university students enrolled in any program of study. Since then, more than 2,100 students have competed and more than $1.7M in cash prizes have been awarded.
The AEAF was created in 1999 as the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation affiliate of The Arkansas Capital Corporation Group. AEAF’s mission is to nurture people and ideas to generate future Arkansas entrepreneurs by being a catalyst to attract, develop, and retain entrepreneurial opportunities within the state.
Following the success of the Governor’s Cup, AEAF created business plan competitions for middle school and high school students – the Youth Entrepreneurship Showcase (Y.E.S.) for Arkansas for grades five through eight, and Y.E.S. for Arkansas 2.0, for grades nine through 12.
At AEAF, we are gearing up for our 16th Governor’s Cup and are excited about the new ideas and teams we will see this year. We’ve spoken to dozens of past competitors who’ve lauded the experience and skills they gained, the connections they made, and their boost in confidence after competing.
The Governor’s Cup also opens the eyes of those who didn’t think starting a business could be an option for them. One of those former competitors is Douglas Hutchings, CEO of Fayetteville-based solar technology company Picasolar. Hutchings represented Picasolar at the White House Demo Day on Aug. 4.
“The Governor’s Cup is extremely important for the state of Arkansas,” the University of Arkansas graduate says. “A lot of my colleagues, especially in the engineering field, simply don’t know what’s possible so they don’t believe that entrepreneurship is a career path for them. So exposure through the Governor’s Cup, in my instance, was a way to see what was possible and ultimately execute on the opportunity.”
Many of the technology- and pharmaceutical-based ideas used in Governor’s Cup plans are licensed from university incubators and technology transfer offices, such as UAMS BioVentures and the University of Arkansas’s Technology Ventures.
Teams are not limited to technology-based business ideas. Students from all disciplines compete with a variety of business ideas. Restaurants, a performing arts studio, and a furniture company are among the businesses sprung from Governor’s Cup competitors.
Although it’s great when business ideas put forth in the Governor’s Cup become real companies, students can use the knowledge and skills gained from competing to start their own companies or if they work for someone else.
First-place teams in the undergraduate and graduate divisions take home $30,000, with no stipulations on how the money may be spent. Cash prizes are also awarded for second and third place in those divisions, in agriculture and innovation divisions, and in an elevator pitch competition.
Intents to compete in the 2016 Governor’s Cup are being accepted until Feb. 1, and business plans are due by Feb. 24.
Any degree-seeking student can visit dwrgovernorscup.org for more information on the Governor’s Cup. If you are interested in learning more about judging the collegiate, high school, or middle school competitions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 501.374.9247.