OBU Inaugural Business Plan Competition Offers Practical Experience

Ouachita Baptist University’s Hickingbothom School of Business recently held its inaugural Business Plan Competition. Participating students formed teams or worked individually under the supervision of a faculty member to create a start-up company for rewards of up to $4,000. “These students submitted ‘real’ business plans, the same type of plan that one would produce prior to seeking funds from a private investor or banker,” said Bryan McKinney, dean of OBU’s Hickingbothom School of Business. Creating these business plans involved producing a financial profile of a business from scratch, building a market research profile and creating the framework for a startup business and much more. Many of the teams began working on their business plan last October for a few hours each week.  Before writing the plan, they had to research their company, thoroughly analyzing the industry and competitors as well as possible opportunities for their company. With the help of the faculty advisors, they prepared both a written business plan that ranged from 20 to 80 pages and an oral presentation. “It was a good experience. I learned a lot from it that I would not be able to learn any other way.  Taking classes is one thing, but gaining experience is another,” said Tyler McCarley, creator of MyWorkShift.com and a freshman business administration major with an emphasis in management from Little Rock, Ark. This competition also helped students prepare for the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Business Plan Competition that takes place each Spring which awards nearly $200,000 in prizes to business students. McKinney said the OBU competition offered students a “trial run” for their businesses, allowing them to get feedback from judges and make any necessary changes to the plan before deciding to enter in the larger competition. Three of the four OBU teams that submitted to the Governor’s Cup have advanced to the semi-final round. There were 49 entries in the Cup, and the next round of presentations will take place April 8 and 9 in Little Rock. “It’s wonderful to see OBU students succeed,” McKinney said. The faculty advisors were vital to the various teams in answering questions and reviewing their plans. This close work between students and faculty members was one of the main goals of the competition. “I’ve long admired how our science professors and their students work together on various research projects,” McKinney said, “and I hoped to create something in business that offered similar opportunities for students to interact with professors.” The faculty advisor for Communityspot.com was Dr. Chris Brune, assistant professor of finance.  Daniel Graham, a member of Communityspot.com and a senior accounting and business administration double major with an emphasis in management from Richardson, Texas, said, “Dr. Brune went above and beyond with the help he offered. In addition to giving invaluable advice on wording, format and information to include, he also opened his house and made himself available at nearly all times of the day.” Although students earned valuable experience—as well as cash prizes, in some cases—from the competition, building a business from scratch was not without its struggles. “It’s easy to come up with an idea, to find some people to get excited about it and to talk with friends and faculty and get suggestions,” Graham said. “The hard part is sitting down three times a week for a few hours and figuring out how to communicate that plan on paper or project your expenses for your income statement and cash outlays for your cash flow statement, and doing all this while everything else in your life is still going on.” The businesses were judged based on both the written plan and the oral presentation. They used extensive guidelines, the same requirements for the Governor’s Cup competition, for judging every component of the business but also the overall business concept. Four local businessmen judged the competition “Collectively, our judges have owned and been involved in a myriad of businesses from convenience stores to web-based businesses and lumber companies,” McKinney said. “They brought a wealth of insight and experience to the competition and invested a lot of time into it.” The judges included Ouachita graduates Curtis Arnold and Bentley Blackmon. Arnold is the founder of CardRatings.com and is the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Person-to-Person Lending. He is a nationally recognized expert on consumer credit card issues and has been interviewed by many sources including NPR, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal. Blackmon is a senior vice president and senior financial consultant with Stephens Inc. He is a CFA, CPA and CFP and serves on the Hickingbotham School’s Business Advisory Board. Other judges included Lewis Lamb and Herb Daily. Lamb has owned convenience stores throughout southern Arkansas during the 1960s and 1970s and has experience in the real estate sector. Daily is the managing partner of Daily Lumber Company Partnership, an investment company for timberland, rental property, subdivisions and monetary holdings. He has served as president of Daily Lumber Company, Inc. and as vice president of DLC Logging, Inc. According to the students and faculty involved in the competition, this first year has been a success. Some of the businesses that were developed even have the potential of becoming more than just a plan. “I thought our students did a fantastic job, but it never surprises me to see our students realize their potential,” McKinney said. “I saw several business plans that I believe could become viable businesses.” For one group, this competition truly was the creation of a company that they plan to bring to life one day. According to Graham, Communityspot.com is a site that their group wants to build. “Several of the highly successful businesses in the last decade have been created by college students,” McKinney said. “Ultimately, I’d love to sit back and watch as one of our students becomes the next great college entrepreneur.” This year’s competition has set the basis for what is hoped to become a yearly tradition at Ouachita in which students can test their learning through experiences. “I think these students set the bar very high, and I’ll be eager to see if we can rise above that bar next year,” McKinney concluded. The five businesses and team members participating in the OBU competition were: MyWorkShift Corp., which won first place and $4,000, was developed by Tyler McCarley, a freshman business administration major with an emphasis in management from Little Rock. At the Governor’s Cup, MyWorkShift is one of teams selected to compete for the most innovative award. It is a web-based business that simplifies the process of scheduling employee work shifts. Communityspot.com, which tied for second place and won $3,000, was developed by Ryne Dubach, a senior accounting and business administration double major with an emphasis in management from Marvell, Ark.; Daniel Graham, a senior accounting and business administration double major with an emphasis in management from Richardson, Texas; and Chris Norcross, a junior business administration major major with an emphasis in finance from Arlington, Texas. At the Governor’s Cup, it was one of 12 teams selected to compete in the semi-finals. It is a web-based business designed to connect communities rather than individuals. Southern Arkansas Biodiesel, LLC, which tied for second place and won $3,000, was developed by Reuben Cash, a senior accounting and business administration major with an emphasis in finance from Springfield, Tenn.; Brandi George, a senior biology major from Malvern, Ark.; and Kendra Pruitt, a senior business administration major with an emphasis in finance from Newport, Ark. At the Governor’s Cup, it was selected to compete for the agriculture award. It makes biodiesel from vegetable oil waste produced in OBU’s food services operation. OBU’s diesel-powered maintenance vehicles are currently operating with this product. PlotIdeas.com was developed by Nathan Peace, a junior mass communications and Christian studies double major with emphases in Christian ministries and Biblical studies from Bedford, Texas. Rosko’s Greek Gear, LLC, was developed by Damien Roberts, a senior business administration major with emphases in management and finance from Lexa, Ark. By Rebecca Stone