Cozad Business Plan Competition: Forming Connections, Making Opportunity

Finalists from across campus competed for over $50,000 in prizes and services during the sixth annual V. Dale Cozad Business Plan Competition that concluded on March 4th. Teams made up of students, professors, and experts presented their business plans to a panel of judges who critiqued them on the teams on performance and the strength of their plan. This year, the competition included two categories, an open division and the newly added social division. The social division was for projects driven by a social mission and the open division projects had an economic mission, said Tony Mendes, the executive director for the Academy of Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The Academy is one of the sponsors of the competition. Community partners include Fox Development Corp, whose founder and president, Peter Fox, started the competition in 1999 in honor of his friend and mentor, V. Dale Cozad.

“A good social mission must be based on a sound business model,” said Mendes. “You have to look for opportunities, rather than just addressing a need.”

The winner in the open division received $20,000, and the winner in the social division received $10,000. Besides the cash prizes, the winners also received free legal and accounting services and six months of office space.

However, the primary purpose of the competition is not to help finance a startup company, Mendes said. “Our main goal is to provide experience for the students in creating business plans. We also help them compete in other entrepreneurial competitions, and to identify potential investors.”

 “If we won, we would take advantage of the money and services to help us license applications,” said Jonathan Engel and Saunvit Pandya, two graduate students from Allied Wind, a company that develops sensing systems for wind turbines. “We would still go ahead even if we didn’t win, but at a diminished scale.”

Teams like Mobile Immersion noted that the cash prizes would not go far in the business world.

“Patenting our technology would cost $50-60,000,” said Mike Turner, a senior in aerospace engineering and part of Mobile Immersion, a digital tracking company. “The most important thing is forming connections, getting publicity, and getting feedback from the judges.”

Michael L. Philpott, a professor in mechanical and industrial engineering and a judge in the open division discussed how credibility would be the real prize in the competition.

“Winning a business plan competition means that people are saying ‘this is a good business opportunity,'” Philpott said.

Microlution, a micro manufacturing company, won the open division.  Microlution founders Andrew Honegger (l) and Andrew Phillip (r) are shown in their lab in the photo, right. 

Ambient, Inc., a company developing speech technology, won the social division. Ambient’s Thomas Coleman (l) demonstrates his non-verbal skills–and the Audeo