Why I Love Business Plan Competitions

Lately I’ve been thinking about how very blessed I am to have such a strong support system (look at my Gratitude Corner page). It has not always been the case, however. I have had to find people who believed in my business idea and who would be willing to help me get it off the ground. The business plan competitions have been key to my success.

When I first had the idea for Sweet & Charming (November 2005 and it was originally called Princess Sweet, just changed the name a few weeks ago), I didn’t know anyone who could help me get it off the ground. My husband is an entrepreneur also, but specializes in wholesale consumer electronics. Nevertheless, he suggested that I go see the Center for Entrepreneurship at BYU where I was finishing my Master’s Degree in Theatre for Young Audiences. I met with their advisor who suggested that I might do well in the BYU Business Plan competition. Winnings for that competition are 1st place $25k, 2nd place $15k, and 3rd place is $10k with semi-finalists winning $1,000 each. I thought that it would be impossible to write a business plan since I had never taken a single business course, never mind that I was also trying to finish my master’s thesis in the same semester, and I had 2 young children! But, I wanted to try.

I started to attend some meetings with other entrepreneurs and see if I could find a “team” for the competition. No one was interested at all. I was really disappointed! There were a lot of MBAs at these meetings that were interested only in tech related fields and a princess idea seemed so unmasculine, so I didn’t have any takers. Then I entered the elevator pitch competition at BYU and surprised myself (and probably the MBAs) and I won 3rd place. I didn’t really even know what a pitch was until I read about how to “deliver a winning pitch” on the internet.

A week before the deadline for the BP competition, only 1 person was interested in my idea. So, with an approaching deadline for the competition and no clue how to write a BP, I got serious about looking into the Palo Alto software that is a tutor for writing BPs and I wrote it without sleeping for two days straight and turned it in at the last minute. My dad who is a CPA/attorney generously helped me with the financial end of it.

I didn’t think I would be accepted into the competition, however, I also tried for some other national ones (Wake Forest and Rice). To my surprise, and to everyone at the MBA school, “a Theatre girl” got into all three competitions. Once this happened, as if by over night, I suddenly was very popular at the BYU business school. MBAs were commenting (I should have been on your team, my idea didn’t get in…) and they were interested in helping me.

Once the announcements were made I had three weeks to prepare for the competitions and I didn’t have a clue of what I was supposed to do. I was fortunately assigned two excellent mentors, Joe Atkin, MBA student (now at Sorenson Capital as Manager) and Mike Eyre, a finance emphasis and they both dedicated at least 40 hours to preparing me for the competition. I also met Mandy McAllister, a marketing MBA student who generously helped with marketing strategy and accompanied me to the Wake Forest and Rice compeitions to compete.

While I didn’t make it to the top 3 at BYU, I did make a lot of amazing contacts and received real, honest feedback. I met so many wonderful venture capitalists, MBA students (who are now graduated), and got my “story” out there. I had stacks of business cards with names I could call for additional help. People who wished this store was in existence for their children and wanted to continue helping me. I also learned that I still didn’t know what a good powerpoint presentation looked like and that when investors ask you questions about your finances, etc. you better know the answers. (Business plan competitions are a bit rough, I have to say that intimidation is part of it.)

Next Mike and Joe helped me revamp the whole presentation for the national competitions and we practiced a lot more. Then Mandy and I went to North Carolina and competed. The first night I was completely overwhelmed by all of the students from Duke, University of Chicago, etc. They all had such great ideas! I didn’t think that we would even have a chance, so I decided we would just do our best, enjoy ourselves, and meet other students. But then after the stressful first round, I got a tip from one of the judges to “slow down” in my pitch (which was pitching on elevators to VC’s). After the second round they announced the top 5 and we were part of that group. Then I almost fell over because we had to be “in the board room” to present our powerpoint in 5 minutes to the VC’s. The intimidation level at this competition was much more severe than at BYU. They were cutting us off, asking us hard questions and pushing us to the point of near tears. But, somehow, some way, we were convincing enough and won 2nd place. Two of the judges, Daniel Egger and Flip Filowski took a personal interest and have continued to be in touch with me via email and have given me referrals.

The 2nd place title (unfortunately only won $1500 that paid our travel expenses), got me a bit of press (radio interview, BYU Business Plan Alumni magazine article 40,000 circulation, local press). This win helped me to met more people in high places and generate a stronger support system.

Then the Rice Competition was next. This was international: 160 MBA schools, we made it to be a finalist 12th place. Again, I collected business cards, talked to every judge I could and asked who they knew who took an interest and asked them, “who do you know who funds retail deals?” And again got some ideas and contacts.

After the competitions, Don Livingstone, Center for Entrepreneurship Director, and Ned Hill, Dean of the BYU Business school offered a great deal of support and introduced me to key individuals that helped me further.

Gary Williams, the advisor of the BYU Business Plan competition and an accomplished entrepreneur and angel investor has continued to mentor me and offer suggestions and introductions. I have been so fortunate to have Gary on my side this past year since the competitions have concluded. I’ve emailed him and asked him questions and he’s been so kind to quickly respond. He believes in me and my idea. He’s also invited me to speak at last year’s opening BP kick-off event and to be a judge at the elevator pitch competition.

Now I am also affililated with the CEDO incubator group in Orem, I’ve just solidified my board of advisors, and I’m getting ready to pitch for REAL. I’m finally lowering my intital investments as I’ve been advised and revised the business model. I now know that even though presentations and competitions are nerve-racking events, you can always make a new friend, a contact, at least one supporter, regardless of how the points add up and whether or not you “win.”

Today’s Magic Wand:

Enter a Business Plan competition, make some contacts!


  1. newspapergrl

    Kelly, You are amazing.
    Reading this makes me tired. And people say *I’m* high energy!
    I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished. How do you do it?? Please tell.


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