Next generation entrepreneurs set out to finish in the money

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Published: April 24,2011

Tags: MBJ Columns, Ted Carter

It’s spring, so what better time for a young man and a young woman’s fancy to turn to — creating a business plan?

Sorry, Alfred Lord Tennyson. These Mississippi youngsters can turn their fancies to love later on. For now, they’ve got business to tend to. State finals in the Southern Entrepreneurship Program’s business plan competition are coming up.

And so it was April 13 at the Clyde Muse Center on the Rankin County campus of Hinds Community College. Students from schools such as West Bolivar High, Columbus High, Petal and Heidelberg High rose in the morning darkness for a long bus ride to Pearl and the opportunity to pitch their plans for entrepreneurial success. The University of Southern Mississippi-based Center for Economic and Entrepreneurship Education assembled a panel of judges that included bankers, venture capital specialists, college business instructors and a financial writer for the MBJ to listen, question and grade on a scale of one to 10.

The aspiring entrepreneurs had to address the competitive advantage they think their product or service would have in the market:

Does the business plan demonstrate a competitive advantage?

Does the product or service serve multiple niches in the market?

Do the features and benefits differentiate from the competition?

And the market itself:

Has the company done a competitive analysis to help it thoroughly understand the target market?

Has the company positioned itself for adaptation to the local market?

Does the company present a compelling plan for penetrating and capturing market share?

And financials, of course:

Is there a clear path to revenue and profitability?

Does the model offer an opportunity for sustainable revenues?

And, finally, management:

Does the entrepreneur demonstrate the characteristics to be successful?

Has the business identified a qualified management team?

Does the plan demonstrate strong strategic relationships with partners, alliances and customers?

Some, like West Bolivar High’s Markei Brown, had the right idea about short and catchy marketing phrases. For his pitch of Markei’s Rib Shack, he would ask of his customer only that they “come hungry and leave happy.”

But he needed to adjust his thinking on just what he’d spend his start-up capital on. He figured that he’d need about $7,000 to get the venture off the ground but must invest $2,200 of that in a really big flat screen TV.

Had the chance arisen, I would have advised Markei that killer ribs done in his secret sauce would make for plenty of entertainment.

Takeyva Smith finished out of the money in the regional competition. But it was she and her ideas the judges talked about among themselves later on.

Takeyva talks and people listen. The charismatic young lady from Rosedale is the prototype salesman the MBJ’s sales advice columnist Jeffrey Gitomer extols.

Takeyva’s plan: Make a boat trip on the Mississippi a must-do for visitors to Great River Road State Park. Her plan for profiting from the local visitor industry  doesn’t stop there. She’s thinking a full resort and a museum.

One thing Takeyva hadn’t fully thought through was that the tours might need to be seasonal. She thinks otherwise, however, and insists she can make a tour boat warm and cozy and a boat river-worthy during a blustery Delta winter.

Takeyva didn’t convince the judges of this. But then, again, she had only 12 minutes to pitch.

Cormeshia Bonner, a second-year entrepreneurship student from Heidleburg, figures that if the customers can’t come to her, she can take her “Toe-Riffic Nails” shop to them.  Cormeshia’s idea is to make regular rounds at elder care homes to bring smiles and refurnished nails to residents. Judges liked her have-nails-will-travel plan enough to award her a third place.

Columbus High’s Landon Williams figures he will skateboard to success with his “Carpe Diem Boardshop.” He’s got a plan for startup capital as well: Regularly sell raffle tickets for a chance at a skateboard.

Nicolet Hopper and Lauren Ladnier aren’t guessing they have a good idea for making money with their Simply Sunless: Custom Airbrush Tanning. They know they do and have around $1,000 in receipts to prove it.

First place winners in the second-year entrepreneurship program, the Petal High students rent a 100-square-foot space at the local Merle Norman Cosmetic Studio where they airbrush on full tans at about $22 a pop. The biggest expense was the $650 airbrush they use to apply the $2.50 worth of tanning solution.

A key reason Nicolet and Lauren scored high in the “clear path to revenue and profitability” category? The tans they apply last only a week. What better way to assure return business?

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