Competition tests entrepreneurship skills

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A final round stands in the way of a $10,000 grand prize for aspiring entrepreneurs participating in the 2014 UM Business Competition.

The competition, which began last fall, is now in the semi-finalist phase and awards $10,000 apiece in undergraduate, graduate and alumni categories. The 31 semifinalists are putting the final touches on their plans, which are due Friday.

The finalists will be announced on March 14, and they will get to present their plans to a judging panel from April 1 to April 4.

“It’s an arduous task,” said Susana Alvarez-Diaz, director of the entrepreneurship program at the Business School.  “If the students come to win it, they come prepared – they bring their ‘A’ game. It’s a lot of detail, a lot of number crunching and a lot of research.”

The business plans themselves are top secret. Competitors sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect their businesses that are explained in detail to prove their viability, throughout the competition.

The competition, which is open to all UM students and non-UM employee alumni, has been put on by the School of Business Administration for 11 years. In that time, two past winning business plans  – College Hunks Hauling Junk and MyTherapyJournal.com – have been featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

UM alumnus Jason Shuman won $5,000 as the first place undergraduate winner in 2013 with his business called Category 5 Boat Shoes. He wrote his business plan in 2010 and updated it in 2013 for the competition.

Shuman now works full-time with his two partners and seven interns. His merchandise is sold in seven states so far.

“I’m rewriting my business plan [again]; it’s always evolving,” he said. “You can never be stagnant in business – you always have to strive for more.”

The 2012 winner, Quinn Worden, was a freshman in 2008 when he started PT United, a healthcare technology and distribution company. According to his LinkedIn profile, he said he started the business to help physical therapists in private practice, like his father.

He entered the competition during his junior year and took third place before coming back the next year to win the grand prize.

Worden is now involved in two other healthcare-related companies in addition to PT United.

Entrants face a grueling five-month process that started with writing a three-to-five-page concept pitch. After the semifinalists’ plans are reviewed and more cuts are made, the finalists will present their work to a panel of successful business people.

Throughout the process, each student is paired with a mentor. Wordan called the mentor pairing “the most valuable thing that the competition has done for me.”

Mentors are successful and seasoned entrepreneurs who focus on the plan’s viability. For example, 2014 semifinalist Alexander Ostbye, a senior, has been paired up with Greg Forgatch, co-founder of the dating site eHarmony.

Each of the three second-place winners will get $5,000, and third-place winners receive $2,500. In addition, the winner of the Paul Sugrue Entrepreneurial Spirit Award receives $1,000.

This year’s prize money has more than doubled from last year, with more than $53,000 up for grabs.

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