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Business Degrees–Business Plan Competitions Open Doors

It used to be MBA students wanted to graduate and become investment bankers for large firms on Wall Street. Things have changed.

Today’s aspiration is to be an entrepreneur; to be the next Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos or Jerry Yang or just one of the many who have made their fortune in the new industry that the Internet has created.

Developing a business from the idea stage to the reality stage takes more than good luck. It takes a sound business plan, investment dollars and strong strategic alliances. Business plan competitions at business schools such as SDSU, the University of Texas and MIT are helping today’s MBA students become tomorrow’s entrepreneurial success stories. Nearly every business school in the country has organized one.

“I believe competing in a business plan competition is the most valuable experience business schools have to offer,” said Johann Verheem, a member of SDSU’s team called Application Technologies. “Participating in a business plan competition makes you think about all the different critical aspects that determine business success, and is probably the ultimate way to give you a good understanding on the overall picture of what it takes to succeed in business.”

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It’s like a talent show of business plans and ideas. MBA students nationwide experience the challenges and prospects that come from experiencing the start-up process. One day a student is completing a class project and the next day he possesses a business start-up that is the new darling of investors.

– Business Plan

Contest Pays Off

The payoff of winning the SDSU business plan competition, recently renamed Venture Challenge, is considerable so naturally the competition is fierce. The winning team receives a $10,000 grand prize, valuable consulting time with successful entrepreneurs and hopefully some new funding.

“The judges on the competition panels are typically guys you would never be able to pay as consultants. They give you brilliant insight and great advice,” Verheem said.

Judges for SDSU’s 1999 competition included Rich Sulpizio, president and chief operating officer of Qualcomm Inc.; Richard Jaffe, CEO of Safeskin; Robert Leonard, senior executive vice president of Ticketmaster; James Sinegal, CEO of Costco; Giles Bateman, director and chairman of Comp USA; and LaRae Bakerink, Nasdaq board member and executive vice president of SK International Securities.

Verheem’s team won SDSU’s 1999 competition and from that day life has been quite exciting.

Application Technologies Inc. is a packaging company selling the Appli-K pouch, a proprietary unit-dose disposable package featuring a built-in applicator. The Appli-K pouch is a one-application container with a built-in applicator. Examples of use include applying acne medicine or ointment.

The pouch was originally conceived by Palm Springs inventor Kurt Koptis, who transferred the technology to the students in exchange for an ownership interest predicated on the students’ development of a business plan that successfully brings the product to market.

– Market Research

Documented In Plan

Convincing market research, documented in the students’ business plan, identified a strong need for the pouch in the medical, pharmaceutical and personal care markets.

“There was no question that the SDSU team presented the best business plan,” Sulpizio said. “We were very impressed with the innovative packaging of their product, and agreed with the teams’ assessment that there was a strong need in the market for single use applications.”

The panel of judges, themselves successful entrepreneurs, also said they liked the management team because they clearly demonstrated an excellent understanding of the market and presented a rationale for why a customer would pay extra for this new packaging.

“We were also convinced there was high reward opportunity for investors because the speed to market and risk are commensurate,” Sulpizio said.

Now with about $500,000 in funding, a utility patent in hand and two partnerships secured, Application Technologies is ready for the big leagues.

– SDSU Students

Become Executives

On July 1, 1999, US Application Technologies Inc. opened its doors to business. Student team members Verheem and Natasha King, both graduates of the MBA program, left their corporate jobs and are the first two full-time executives at Application Technologies. Verheem is the president and CEO and King is the company’s marketing manager.

“This is a highly dedicated and experienced team,” said Professor Alex DeNoble, the team faculty adviser and now a strategic advisor to the company. “They have the energy, drive, experience and commitment to do the business. I expect great things from them in the future.”

This year’s SDSU business plan competition Venture Challenge 2000 is slated for March 30 to April 1. Information about the competition is available at the Entrepreneurial Management Center’s Web site (www.sdsu.edu/emc).

Dr. Ehrlich is the executive director of SDSU’s Entrepreneurial Management Center and an associate professor of management.

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