Wednesday, January 07, 2015

[251] Have a great business idea? MTSU competition offers seed money

Students, alums invited to enter best business plan contest

MURFREESBORO — MTSU students, alumni and others looking to get that great business idea off the ground have an opportunity to do so through a university-sponsored business plan competition.

The competition, which includes seed money to the top two winners, is offered through the Wright Travel Chair in Entrepreneurship in MTSU’s Jennings A. Jones College of Business. Although the deadline to submit online entries isn’t until late February, organizers are encouraging anyone interested in participating to get started on their submission now.

“The competition is really a mechanism to try to get people to start writing things down, to think through the process,” said MTSU professor Bill McDowell, chair holder of the Wright Travel Chair in Entrepreneurship.

Any enrolled MTSU students or MTSU alumni can participate. A team can consist of one or more contestants and can include nonstudents, but there must be at least one MTSU student or alumnus on each team. That person will be responsible for making key presentations during the course of the competition and should be included in top management for the proposed business.

“The student or alum must be extremely involved in the plan,” McDowell said.

An added incentive to enter the contest is the seed money awarded to the top plans. The first place prize is $7,500, while the runner-up will receive $5,000. The multi-stage competition also includes training on writing business plans and mentoring, with top winners selected in spring 2015.

Applications and submissions are due by noon Feb. 26, 2015, but McDowell encourages contestants to get started now on the online application process, which begins with submitting a “new venture profile” that summarizes the business idea.

Students and alumni can get more information by visiting or by visiting

“This is an attempt to stir innovation and creativity in students and alumni to start thinking about what they might have in the backs of their minds,” McDowell said. “To try to get those from an idea that’s stuck inside to an opportunity that they may try to act upon.”

The competition was started in 2013 to encourage entrepreneurship in the region. It is designed to help students and alumni in launching new business ventures, including for-profits, not-for-profits, corporate entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

“The Jones College provides opportunities like this so that our students get the kind of hands-on experiences and soft skills needed to have successful careers,” said Dr. David Urban, dean of the Jones College.

McDowell, who taught entrepreneurship at East Carolina University for eight years before coming to MTSU a year ago, said potential participants should think about a need in the marketplace that they think they can fill and turn into a sustainable business.

The Midstate is a perfect area to do this, McDowell added, because of the overall positive economic climate as well as the strong support from local chambers of commerce and the availability of resources such as the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at MTSU.

“I like the progressive and entrepreneurial attitude that seems to pervade this entire Middle Tennessee area,” he said. “We live in an area here in Middle Tennessee where there’s really a lot of growth and a lot of opportunity for new startups, whether they’re in retail or manufacturing or service.”

McDowell emphasized that the competition isn’t limited to business students, and organizers expect to get multiple entries from students and alumni whose expertise and background are in other disciplines.

“I expect a huge number of submissions to come from all across campus,” he said. “There’s a lot of creative departments, majors and colleges … where there are going to be some unique ideas.”

After an initial screening round, participants will go through a sort of entrepreneurial boot camp, McDowell said, where more specifics will be shared about what’s needed in the business plan and how to put together presentations for potential stakeholders and investors.

Later, there will be a tradeshow round where judges will narrow down the field to the top three or four entries. Mentors will then be assigned to the teams to help them polish their presentations and business plans for final evaluation by judges.

Organizers say the process will allow students to enhance their learning experience, gain feedback on ideas, develop networks and expose their ideas to potential investors. Early-stage company investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders from the Midstate will judge presentations by the finalist teams.

“We’re seeing so many new ideas popping up. It comes down to the creativity and innovation, but also your willingness to put in the hard work,” McDowell said. “Being an entrepreneur can be very rewarding because you get to reap the rewards of your success, but at the same time you’re the one taking the risks.”

Other prizes and awards will be given during the competition. For more information, visit

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