Six California State University, Dominguez Hills student entrepreneurs made perhaps the most important sales pitch they’ll ever make—the one that could help them properly launch their business.
The students—four individuals and one team of two—from the College of Business Administration and Public Policy (CBAPP) pitched their business plans in April at the “Toro’s Venture Challenge,” the college’s fourth annual business plan competition. The competition, a collaboration of CBAPP Advisory Board members and faculty who served as judges and mentors, provided students with an opportunity to implement actual business practices they’ve learned during their coursework or have developed on their own.
With 15 minutes each, the students presented their business plans to a panel of four judges as if they were presenting to potential investors. Putting their business sense and entrepreneurial spirit to the test, each student described how his or her product or service would bring value to the market, the problem it would solve, and how it would solve the problem. The entrants also provided an operation plan, and an outline of the financing and resources needed to make their businesses successful. The students demonstrated their understanding of the market landscape by identifying such outside factors as competitive challenges and barriers to entering the market.
The presentations were judged based on the comprehensiveness of the business plan and the depth of knowledge and enthusiasm that the students demonstrated as well as on the abstracts they submitted during the application process. At stake was a first place prize of $2,000, $1,500 for second place, and $1,000 for third; the prize money was donated by State Farm and The Home Depot Center. To help the winners officially get their businesses off the ground they also received access to legal services and consultation with business entrepreneurs. However, everyone who participated was essentially a winner, according to Mike Grimshaw, who was part of the five-person evaluation committee for the competition and is a member of the CBAPP Advisory Board.
“Everybody who takes the effort [to submit their business plan] gets exposed,” he said. “They get a lot of feedback on an idea. If they are serious about getting an idea to market, this is very, very important to them.”
Senior business administration major Lavance Kelly showed how serious he is about realizing his business and for his effort was rewarded with third place. His is an idea two years in the making—or a couple of generations in the making if the product genesis is considered. Formulated from a recipe handed down from Kelly’s grandmother, Big Mom’s Guard is a natural non-toxic pesticide made from ingredients commonly purchased at any grocery store.
“Lavance had a creative approach and brought samples of his product, which has a history,” said Grimshaw. “Solving a problem that he clearly identified, he described how his product was better than some others in his category.”
Kelly was one of five finalists selected by the evaluation committee that along with Grimshaw included CSU Dominguez Hills faculty members Barbara Chrispin, academic liaison for the business plan competition and emeritus professor of management; Jim Katzenstein, lecturer of management; Tom Norman, professor of management; and Tayyeb Shabbir, professor of finance.
As part of a learning opportunity, the evaluation committee offered suggestions to students when they submitted their business plans so they could make modifications prior to the formal presentation. Grimshaw also ran a half-day boot camp where students learned how to streamline their presentations and improve their delivery.
Creating a business plan can be overwhelming, especially for students who are new to the process. Grimshaw said these early stages in the competition allowed students the opportunity to break down the process and to see whether it actually made sense to bring their product to the market.
“Before you take a lot of resources and develop a business plan, why not see how viable your idea is to begin with?” he said.
The development activities provided through the competition seemed to help finalists Kristen Anna and Sam Shabbat who presented 24-Hour Students, Joshua Esters who presented Blue Sky Homes, and Lore Lavelle, who along with her business partner and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-trained Kimberly Clausell, earned second place with Random Treats, which offers freshly prepared gourmet sweets via food trucks traveling in the Los Angeles area.
“They used a rice crispy base, with really really fun coatings, toppings and chocolate, they were really really creative and they were delicious …so, that was compelling,” said Grimshaw of Lavelle’s products.
The women were well on their way to realizing Random Treats as a real-life business when Lavelle entered the competition, but by entering they were able to fine-tune their business plan and, as part of their prize, plan to take advantage of free legal consultation to get it to the next step.
“We had a fictitious business name already, but the competition helped boost our self-confidence and provided us with the extra money to get started, and with the legal hours prize we will transition into an LLC, with [attorney Lee Petillon’s] help and advice,” said Lavelle.
The boot camp, where Lavelle said she learned how to effectively present to investors, seemed to pay off; since the competition she and her partner have secured an additional investor and have been able to purchase food trucks for a July 1 launch.
Arya Hasheminejad won the competition after pitching Pita-Gio’s, what he describes as a healthy fast-casual food restaurant that serves sandwiches and pizza on pita bread. His ingenuity and business sense caught the attention of the judges.
“We were all very impressed with his demeanor, his intelligence; he articulated his business plan very well, and he had some past business experience. Part of the reason [we selected him as the winner] was his personal credibility. The other reason was his business plan. It seemed to be distinctive enough from other fast food operations,” said competition judge Lee Petillon, an attorney at the law office of Petillon, Hiraide and Loomis. “It was very close between him and the other three finalists.”
Grimshaw, who is also a professor at Marymount College, said students understand that entrepreneurism has really become a way to make a living and that the competition encourages students to innovate and provides them with direction to start a business.
“I think that’s what the thrust of this contest is: to help people have that opportunity,” he said.
Kelly, who submitted a lengthy business plan for Big Mom’s Guard, said that by participating in the competition he not only learned a great deal but he accomplished an important goal.
“It gave me a way to summarize 60 pages into two sentences; Pest control is a $45 billion industry in the United States, of which home-and-garden brick and mortars make up $1.28 billion. It is likely that e-commerce will continue to grow globally and it is likely that people will continue to have general pests in the foreseeable future,” said Kelly. “That’s my pitch. That’s my elevator speech.”
The event was sponsored by CBAPP’s Institute for Entrepreneurship, Small Business Development and Global Logistics. Service sponsors included Petillon, who donated 10 hours of legal services—a $4,500 value; Wade Downey of the CPA office of Downey, Smith and Fier; Rod Pierce of Total HR and Compass Acquisition Partners; the Monday Club of the South Bay (a group of entrepreneurs); and the South Bay Entrepreneurial Center, which donated a half day of mentoring for each contestant—a $2,000 value.
The judges for the competition along with Petillon, were Downey, Devonne Edwards of State Farm Insurance, and Patricia Williams of NKP Management.
For more information about participating in the 2012-13 Toro’s Venture Challenge business plan competition, contact David Hoopes at email@example.com.
For more information on the College of Business Administration and Public Policy, call (310) 243-3548 or visit cbapp.csudh.edu.