Entrepreneurial students participate in contests

As participants in the Nascent 500 Business Plan Challenge, Western Carolina University students Zach Phillips, far left, and Kyle Perkins, center, and Southwestern Community College student Keat Cahoon wooed a panel of judges with their entrepreneurial ideas while spinning around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a limousine. A number of recent contests have allowed WCU students an education outside the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Ball State University)

As participants in the Nascent 500 Business Plan Challenge, Western Carolina University students Zach Phillips, far left, and Kyle Perkins, center, and Southwestern Community College student Keat Cahoon wooed a panel of judges with their entrepreneurial ideas while spinning around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a limousine. A number of recent contests have allowed WCU students an education outside the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Ball State University)

A number of recent contests have engaged Western Carolina University’s entrepreneurial-minded students in “real world” experiences outside the classroom.

In late March, judges for Western’s inaugural WISE Challenge, an opportunity for students to develop new business ideas, named the contest’s winners. Also in late March, a student team traveled to Indianapolis to participate in the Nascent 500 Business Plan Challenge, an event that required students to pitch business ideas inside a limousine while circling a racetrack. And 10 entrepreneurship students from WCU traveled to Charlotte in early April to participate in a regional competition hosted by Students in Free Enterprise, an international organization that encourages socially responsible business leadership.

The WISE Challenge, or Western’s Innovative Student Enterprise Challenge, began in early September by inviting teams of undergraduate students to develop original ideas – along with business plans – for new products, technologies or services. Western faculty and staff served as mentors to the participants. After hearing presentations from nine finalists, an independent panel of judges announced the top three winners March 28.

Winning first place and a prize of $3,000 was 4g Deals, a team comprising Chris Killen, a senior biology major from North Wilkesboro; Isaac Roberts, a senior chemistry major from Andrews; and Timothy Willis, a junior chemistry major from Maiden.

The business, which its founders plan to launch in the near future, will connect advertisers to consumers through a subscription text-messaging service. Initially, WCU students will register to receive messages announcing specials and other deals from area restaurants.

Team members say the consumer’s ability to control when they receive messages, and who they receive messages from, sets 4g Deals apart from similar services. “You don’t get anything you don’t want. That is the most important aspect,” Willis said.

The second-place prize of $1,500 went to Moth House Group, a team pitching a business that would reduce crop damage by disrupting moth reproduction. Athlete’s Exchange, which would match international student-athletes to U.S. schools, as well as facilitate European trips for students who want to play tennis and travel, won the third-place prize of $1,000.

WISE organizers called the contest a success and plan to continue it as an annual event. Presenting to people in the world of business gives students experience unlike what they receive in the classroom, said Jonathan Snover, a chemistry professor and director of the master’s degree program in science and entrepreneurship. “I think preparing and presenting their ideas to strangers was a fantastic experience that the students won’t forget anytime soon,” Snover said. “And I was pleased that the judges indicated they thought all the ideas could have been viable businesses.”

Many of the students involved in the WISE Challenge plan to continue developing their ideas, which supports the contest’s success. “The reason we had this competition was for them to pursue and develop their ideas,” Snover said.

Another entrepreneurial group of students plans to continue promoting its concept after an appearance at the Nascent 500, hosted by Ball State University’s Entrepreneurship Center. Kyle Perkins, a junior entrepreneurship major from Raleigh, and Zach Phillips, a junior computer information systems major from Hamptonville, along with Southwestern Community College student Keat Cahoon, belonged to one of only 12 teams to advance to the final rounds of the Nascent 500, a contest that gives students 500 seconds to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges while circling the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a limousine.

The team’s business idea, a service called ScrumIt (scrumit.org – link no longer active) promotes increased productivity through the work of close-knit teams comprising individuals with similar skill sets. The Nascent 500 pitted Team ScrumIt against student teams from schools including the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University. Despite not advancing to the final round, the ScrumIt team had a “very beneficial experience,” said Perkins, who also pitched ScrumIt in the WISE Challenge.

Frank Lockwood, WCU assistant professor of entrepreneurship, accompanied students to both the Nascent 500 and the Students In Free Enterprise competition. At the latter, juniors and seniors in WCU’s entrepreneurial consulting class, which Lockwood teaches with Louis E. Buck Jr., director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, presented a project about their work with the Marketing Association of Rehabilitation Centers. MARC is a collective of 14 rehabilitation facilities in the western portion of the state that offers vocational training and employment to adults with physical and mental disabilities. Students are working with the nonprofit to develop best practices that will allow similar enterprises to organize like MARC.

Western students competed against more than 30 colleges and universities and “did an excellent job,” Lockwood said. While not chosen to advance, team members did have the opportunity to interview for jobs and internships.

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation offers students the skills to successfully launch and grow an entrepreneurial venture. The popular offering has attracted about 170 of WCU’s 550 business majors, Lockwood said. Entrepreneurship lends itself to integrating with programs outside the College of Business, he said.

“The idea is to allow the students to leave here with the ability to start a business around the discipline they are interested in,” Lockwood said.

For information about Western Carolina University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, contact Louis E. Buck at (828) 227-3798 or lbuck@wcu.edu.