Ruthie Braunstein/The Hoya IdeaChallenge organizers Blake Helppie (MSB ‘ 01), Jeremy Landau (MSB ’01) and Chris Fields (MSB ’01)

The application deadline for Georgetown’s first-ever business plan competition is nearing, and organizers are anticipating heavy competition for the $10,000 prize money.

The competition, called IdeaChallenge, similar to competitions in many universities across the nation, accepts business plans from any group that includes a Georgetown undergraduate or graduate student.

Plans will be submitted to a panel of judges, and three winners will share $10,000 in prize money. Worth even more than the prize money, organizers say, is the exposure to influential venture capitalists and leading industry experts which finalists will receive.

The idea for the competition began in May 2000 when several venture capitalists from New York contacted the GU Student Investment Fund. Chris Fields (MSB ’01), one of the Fund’s members, contacted faculty and other students with the idea, and in September 2000 the group came together and began the actual planning. Three venture capitalists came to speak at Georgetown’s MBNA Career Center to an audience of over 50 students. This was followed in November by the opportunity for Georgetown students to submit business plans to a panel of venture capitalists and have lawyers critique these ideas.

The $10,000 worth of prize money for the competition was secured through networking with local venture capital and Internet technology firms. The main financial sponsors of the competition are Revolent Technologies, an internet technologies services firm in Dulles, Va.; the Gerson Lehrman Group, a technology and market research firm in New York and the LuxCapital Group, a venture capital firm also in New York.

Many other universities (especially those known for their engineering programs like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford) have had these types of annual competitions for many years. One of the most widely known of these types of competitions is the “MIT 50 K,” winners of which have gone on to create extremely successful businesses. Helppie explained that there is a stereotype, however, that students at liberal arts universities such as Georgetown just lack the entrepreneurial spirit.

Those involved in the creation of the competition include students from a range of Georgetown’s schools, as well as faculty members, alumni and law students. The two main organizations involved in the creation of the competition are the BNA Career Center and the Georgetown University Student Investment Fund. Some of the main student organizers include Helppie, Jeremy Landau (MSB ’01), Fields, Cyrus Shay (MSB ’01) and Tepring Piquado (COL ’01). The competition, however, is not limited to business students.

Speaking about the inclusive nature of the competition, Fields said, “It can be anybody – that’s the whole point of this competition. It could be an art history major.”

The submission form for the executive summaries of entered plans can be found on the competition’s Web site Executive summaries are expected to be about one page in length, with the goal of making it fairly easy for any and all who are interested to enter the competition. Fields said the plan does not have to be complicated, and actually entering a group in the project using the Web site should take only around 20 or 30 minutes. The ideas submitted will then be kept confidential and secure. In addition to submission forms, the site also includes explanations of the competition, its rules and due dates. In addition, it gives pointers on writing successful business plans and links to various Web sites on the subject.

Landau said the group is expecting around 35 to 40 submissions by Friday, and the competition would be by no means easy, as there will be many “bright ideas” submitted. Critiques of the executive summaries turned in by this Friday’s deadline will be issued on Feb. 16.

Those who are selected as semi-finalists will be asked to submit complete versions of their business plans by March 18. The list of finalists (between six and 10 will be selected) will be announced on March 28. These finalists will be able to make 30 minute presentations to a panel of judges including venture capitalists, industry experts and faculty members. If the companies like some of the plans presented, there is a good possibility that they will provide the student planners with future financial backing. This could be up to $500 to $600 thousand just as a first investment.

Concerning IdeaChallenge, Helppie said, “It’s a test run . but we want it to continue in the future . and to really get the word out about the competition.”

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