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Business contest fires up for $30K awards

Fisher College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurship is again sponsoring the Ohio State Business Plan Competition, allowing students to create their own business plans with rewards of up to $15,000.

Nikki Modlich, program coordinator in the Center for Entrepreneurship and coordinator of the competition, said the competition began in 2001 with the Business Builders Club. Now the event features an undergraduate track, an open competition track and a social innovation track.

As a student-based competition, students participating can partner with faculty, advisers and businesses or community members to develop their plans, Modlich said. Entries are submitted in the fall with the final round concluding in May.

Students from any major at OSU are allowed to participate, Modlich said.

The projects are start-up companies, which are permitted to earn revenue and have earned a certain amount of revenue prior to the competition but cannot enter the competition with a business that is already established, Modlich said. Students are required to hold equity in the company.

“They identify a problem, and they come up with a solution for that problem, and that’s the best way, really, to describe what they’re doing,” Modlich said.

The competition has three rounds. Initially, students submit a three-page conceptual business case online to enter, Modlich said. That entry is reviewed by entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and others in the community online who send written feedback to the teams.

Typically receiving 100 submissions, those are broken down to teams that will be allowed to submit a plan further for the second round, Modlich said. At this point in the competition, teams must submit a 20-page business plan, which undergoes the same judging process.

The final round of the competition features about six to eight teams, Modlich said. The last round is an on-campus presentation to decide the winners.

The winners receive $15,000 for the open competition; the second and third place teams are awarded $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

The undergraduate competition winners receive $5,000; with second and third place finishers getting $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

“It’s an academic exercise, students need to know the basics of developing business concepts and putting that on paper and be able to relay that to potential investors if they aspire to start a business,” Modlich said.

Most of the top winners go on to create companies, but don’t always, Modlich said.

A lot of entries are service industry-related, Modlich said.

Emily Schnittger, a second-year graduate student in marketing, was on the winning team last year. The business, Adaptive Fitness, developed a plan to make fitness equipment for people with disabilities.

“Regular fitness equipment is really not ideal for somebody with a disability,” Schnittger said. “They have a really hard time using the equipment effectively.”

The team wanted to create a piece of equipment that would be easy for anyone with a disability to use, Schnittger said. One development was a weight stack that could be controlled electronically rather than with a metal pin, and the machine would then remember their settings so they could do their work out.

“A lot of people with disabilities are often turned away from major fitness centers because the staff members don’t know what to do with them, they don’t know how to help them, and they’re afraid of liabilities,” Schnittger said. “So the bigger picture, and what I think is the real social innovation here, is we wanted to develop equipment that would allow people with disabilities to work out in a main stream fitness center, to get rid of that exclusion.”

The competition was intense, Schnittger said.

“It can be pretty intimidating, fortunately for us we really knew our user, we really knew what we were trying to accomplish,” Schnittger said.

Ryan Brown, a fifth-year in mechanical engineering also part of the Adaptive Fitness team, said the best part of the competition was gaining the experience of making a business plan and presenting it in front of people who do it every day, as well as being recognized as being a winner.

As a whole, Brown said he spent about 10 to 20 hours a week on the project, and a few hours a week to the business plan specifically.

Schnittger said the best part of the competition was that there was a lot of pride in what they did to help create fitness equipment for people who couldn’t otherwise use it.

“I think (the competition) is really worthwhile for people to get involved in. It’s a great way to find something that you’re passionate about,” Schnittger said. “There’s a possibility of actually getting (your ideas) into development.”


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