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Business competition offers prize

Nicole Toczauer | Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The search is on for the next great idea.

Now in its 12th year, the McCloskey Business Plan Competition invites students, alumni and faculty to submit both profit and nonprofit business ventures, competing for a grand prize of $20,000.

Laura Hollis, director of the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said the competition is on the lookout for unique ventures, especially those geared toward addressing social issues.

“There are no impediments and any reason not to enter isn’t good enough as far as I’m concerned,” Hollis said. “If you’ve ever said somebody ‘oughta’ make something, you have an idea. What’s there to risk?”

She said the best way to approach the competition, or any business venture, is to consider what problems exist and create innovative solutions to those problems.

“That’s what it’s really about — why people are so riveted by Steve Jobs in his passing,” Hollis said. “It’s people who don’t let circumstances tell them no. They aren’t bound by the way things are always done.”

Registration for the competition is now open, Hollis said, and the cutoff for submissions is November 7.

The competition involves three stages: an open call for submissions, a semifinalist competition and finalist presentations in April.

“Last year, we had 120 submissions,” Hollis said. “67 moved on from the first stage and were then narrowed to 12 semifinalists. The finalists then gave a presentation before the judges in April.”

The Ideas Challenge, which focused on entrepreneurship, kicked off the competition in September, she said.

“They had to stand up for 60 seconds and say, ‘Here’s my idea,'” Hollis said. “That’s honestly the hardest part for most people.”

Hollis said the competition seeks ventures that have the potential to make both social and commercial impacts.

“Last year we fused together the McCloskey Business Competition and the Social Venture Competition,” she said. “This gets away from the notion that commercial and social ventures are completely different. We want commercial ventures to have more social impact and social ones to have a strong sense of fiscal sustainability.”

In addition to fusing the two competitions, the Gigot Center also streamlined the competition’s process, she said.  They decided to abandon a traditional 20-page paper on speculative sales, required in previous years, opting instead for a process that cultivates confidence and experience.

“Most collegiate ventures are in their early stages so we’ve taken on more of a handholding process at each step,” Hollis said. “We’re also beefing up a lot of in-kind support prizes which are more helpful for them than just handing them a check.”

While only a few are designated winners in the McCloskey Competition, it can act as a launch pad for other participants, Hollis said.

Hollis said competitors have worked in the past to answer pervasive issues in health and medical, technology, social plans, literacy and several other topics.

“Can you come up with something that solves a problem or meets a need?” Hollis said. “When push comes to shove, you go about answering it and that’s more important than the prize.”