Each year the Entrepreneurship Foundation (www.entrepreneurshipfoundation.org) hosts a business plan competition in New Haven, Connecticut.
“Teams” from universities throughout New England submit business plans to the competition, and the 25 best are selected for an all-day “pitch” session to a three judge panel consisting of a venture capitalist, an angel investor, and (ahem) myself. I was privileged to judge the 14th annual Connecticut Business Plan Competition (as the event is called) last week. I judge several business plan competitions throughout the country, and I find a lot of “teams” come up with similar ideas. So, for those of you readers who are studying entrepreneurship and want to know how judges look at your team’s business plan, here are my handwritten notes on some of the ideas presented at last week’s competition. Plan # 1: Online Dating Service. The Concept: a website that combines the two most common ways couples meet — finding potential partners online who are friends-of-friends. For a small monthly subscription fee, customers upload their Facebook profiles to the site, and people who think someone’s Facebook friend is “hot” can contact that someone for an introduction. What I Liked: Online dating is too scary for most people, yet people are reluctant to “matchmake” online by recommending their friends to potential dating partners. This is a “Goldilocks” solution that resolves both problems. What I Didn’t Like: Too much competition from Match.com, eHarmony.com, and other sites. Also, if a customer’s Facebook friend doesn’t want to make herself available for online dating, there is no way for the friend to “opt out” of the site’s database (other than “defriending” the customer). Plan # 2: Skills Certification for Online Hiring: The Concept: a website where people seeking specific jobs can take an online examination “certifying” them for particular job skills. The results are published online, so employers seeking specific skills can see how a candidate scored on the examinations for those skills. What I Liked: From an employer’s perspective, this is a great idea, as it helps them determine if someone claiming to have a particular skill actually has it. What I Didn’t Like: Several competing sites already test candidates for proficiency in skills that can be quantified (such as knowledge of a particular computer programming language). It will be difficult if not impossible to come up with an examination that effectively tests skills that cannot be quantified (for example, negotiating and other interpersonal skills). Plan # 3: “Reviews” Website for Senior Caregivers. The Concept: A website where senior citizens living at home and their families can rate their in-home caregivers and local caregiver agencies. What I Liked: There’s a real need for a service like this. What I Didn’t Like: There’s no way to determine if the reviews are fair or accurate. Also, I wasn’t sure if anyone would be willing to pay for the service, meaning it would have to rely almost entirely upon advertising revenue. Plan # 4: Attachment to Video Game Device. The Concept: A laser attachment for the currently existing motion sensing technology for the Sony PlayStation 3 device called “The Move”. What I Liked: Third party point of view (POV) videogamers are fanatics who will spend money on anything that will give them a competitive edge. What I Didn’t Like: Because the attachment must be compatible with the device’s technology, Sony or the device manufacturer would probably have to “authorize” the attachment, and they will want money for that. Also, nothing prevents Sony or the device’s manufacturer from developing a laser attachment on its own. Plan # 5: “Parkour” Course. The Concept: The development of “parkour” courses, fabricated from abandoned buildings where enthusiasts practice high-risk stunts within safe environments (“parkour” is a gymnastic form of free-running originally designed for the French military, where people rush through urban obstacles as quickly as possible using abnormal movements). What I Liked: Nobody in the United States is doing this (there are several courses in France and the U.K.). What I Didn’t Like: “Parkour” is virtually unknown in the U.S., even among extreme sports enthusiasts, so the market size will be extremely small and may not sustain even a small course. Also, because the nature of “parkour” is to deal with unexpected obstacles as they crop up, the course will need to be changed frequently, at significant expense, so that participants cannot “learn” the course too quickly. Plan # 6: Device That Eliminates Loose Change. The Concept: A debit card attachment that automatically deposits loose change into the customer’s account at the point of sale. What I Liked: The device eliminates coins and encourages saving. What I Didn’t Like: The customer would still receive bills in change so it’s not a perfect “cashless” solution. Also, the customer would be required to present two cards at the point of sale instead of one, increasing the time necessary for the cashier to process each transaction. More next week . . .
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.