A — The Gillespie Business Plan Competition is a contest that allows students to craft and present their business plans to a group of business professionals. Through this process, students can hone their business ideas and create a persuasive presentation that mimics a pitch to fund the business. Students learn analysis, market research, financing, team building and presentation skills throughout the competition. The ultimate goal is to provide funding to the winners who can realize their dream to start a business, thereby providing jobs in Mississippi and the region.
Q — How long has the School of Business been holding it?
A — We have been doing the competition since 2005, and the Gillespie Foundation funded it beginning in 2006.
Q — Where did the idea come from?
A — Mississippi is an entrepreneurial state, and the University of Mississippi faculty in the School of Business recognized the opportunity to provide value to our students through such a competition. Many other schools do this type of competition, and it is a good learning opportunity for our students. We have since started an entrepreneurship minor to help our students be more entrepreneurial and innovative because we believe this will provide great value to our graduates and to the economic development of Mississippi.
Q — What’s the goal of the competition?
A — The goal of the competition is to provide experiential learning to all the participants. It is a great way to allow students to practice what they learn in class and to apply the knowledge to an idea about which they feel passionate. As an added benefit, the $7,000 first-place prize money and office space at Insight Park on campus gives the winning team a real opportunity to start the business and to be successful entrepreneurs.
Q — How would something like this help a student who was considering starting his or her own business either soon or eventually?
A — The main benefit for a student is the structure and critical thinking that is required to present a credible case that the business can be successful. Since the students will be presenting to a panel of outsiders, the pressure is real and simulates what they would need to be successful in pitching their business plan to real investors. For example, students may have a great idea about an iPhone app, but need to clearly consider the revenue it would generate, their target market, the costs of maintaining the systems to provide the product, the legal process of protecting their intellectual capital and so on. The competition requires answering these questions that investors would have, and makes the students think carefully about what they intend to do rather than just believe “it is a good idea.” There are many good ideas, so the competition is more about executing the idea rather than coming up with the idea.
Q — How does the competition complement the School of Business’ curriculum?
A — We use the Gillespie Business Plan Competition to interface with our entrepreneurship minor. We now have three entrepreneurship faculty members who use the competition to enrich these classes in the minor. In addition, the partnership between engineering, business and accountancy, known as the Center for Manufacturing Excellence, is aimed toward getting students who are interested in starting manufacturing companies to enter the competition and vet their ideas in this forum. Our focus in the business school is to prepare our students for success. The Gillespie Business Plan Competition provides a wonderful way for students to see what the real world of funding ideas looks like in an environment that allows them to learn without the burden of failing in a business. We hope this process will create serial entrepreneurs who provide the jobs of the future to Mississippi and the region.
Ken Cyree is dean of the Ole Miss Business School, which recently started its annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition. The competition is meant to teach student participants the process of starting a business, from initial idea to funding to operation. The competition concludes in April.
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