The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is sponsoring its annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition this semester to give students a professional experience similar to the popular TV show “Shark Tank.”
This competition allows student participants to create a business plan and pitch it to potential investors. The idea judged to have the most potential for success will receive $10,000, a free year of office space at Insight Park’s Innovation Hub and a limited amount of free legal assistance to get its startup running. Additionally, the first-place student or team will win two iPad Pros.
The business plan awarded second place will receive $5,000, and third place will receive $2,500.
Last year’s winners, Sara Kiparizoska and William Ault, founded a smartphone app called “Nimble Fashion”—later changed to “Curtsy”— which allows users to rent dresses to or from other students at their school, similarly to “Rent the Runway.” Kiparizoska said she left the company to pursue a medical degree, but Ault still runs Curtsy.
“The biggest thing for people trying to participate is to just go out there and validate your idea,” Ault said. “You can’t argue with results.”
Ault participated in Gillespie the last four years. He said he pitched Curtsy the last two times, and at first the app idea he had did not even place. His advice to future participants is to have a firm belief in their ideas and believe in trial and error.
Alicia Hydeman is the creator and founder of clothing label LuLu Jax. Hydeman was the grand prize winner of Venture Launch, a similar but smaller business plan competition. This win guarantees her a spot in the semifinals of the Gillespie competition.
“I’m super excited,” Hydeman said. “I’ve made appointments to meet with Mr. James Carden in the SBDC (Small Business Development Center) and Owens Alexander in the CIE for them to consult me, help me revise and prepare my presentation for this round coming up.”
The deadline to enter the competition is Sunday, Feb. 19, at midnight. CIE said there are usually about 40 applicants from whom that a panel of business school judges picks 16 semifinalists. After the semifinal competition, six or seven finalists prepare a 12-20 page formal business plan to be submitted to a final panel of judges a few days before the competitors give their final presentations.
This year, the final round of Gillespie will be held at 1 p.m. April 7 in The Pavilion in the Courtside Club.
Owens F. Alexander Jr., an adjunct instructor of management at CIE, advises students throughout the competition. He said he helps contestants better develop their business plans for presenting.
“It’s a great learning experience,” Owens said. “It’s fun. It’s no cost. It’s no obligation. We will do a lot of coaching and advising to help them along.”
The winning team does not receive the money unconditionally, however.
In the past, the students with the winning idea received the money through their student bursar accounts. This year, the winners must create a limited liability company, and a check with the first half of the prize money will be written to that company. Ninety days later, the rest of the money will be awarded if the winners meet certain requirements by the CIE. These requirements have not yet been finalized.
This article was contributed to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.