Category Archives: Student Life

Top 5 tips for succeeding in a business plan competition

Guest post by Chris Rodde, CEO of SeniorHomes.com and 2012 UW Business Plan Competition judge

In April of 2012, I participated as a judge in the screening round for the University of Washington Business Plan Competition. I have never served as a judge before in this competition, nor do I have any personal start-up investing experience (as many judges do). However, as an experienced founder/CEO of a start-up, I have good experience to leverage as a judge. My start-up, SeniorHomes.com, is now in its fourth year. We’ve raised two rounds of financing from angels and institutional investors and now employ more than 25 people.  Based on my experience as a start-up founder and as a judge in this competition, I have a few tips for next year’s entrepreneurs.

My top 5 tips for entering a business plan competition:

    1. Don’t submit a plan until you have traction. My biggest surprise as a judge was the lack of traction demonstrated by many of the teams. Three of the six plans I judged didn’t even have a website. During the investment round of the UW competition, judges are asked to invest a hypothetical $1000. So the same mentality used by investors in the real world comes into play in the competition. Investors in the real world pick companies that have momentum and that demonstrate that they can execute. Execution is everything in a start-up and to stand out in a business plan competition, show more progress than your competitors. Simple things like having a website (even if it just says “coming soon”), a working prototype, a first pilot completed, or actual paying customers will go a long way to make you stand out. Customers using or paying for your product is particularly important as this will help eliminate unknowns and back up the assumptions in your business plan with real world data.
    2. Be complete. There are some critical things every business plan must cover. Make sure that you cover all of these things, even if briefly. There are tons of great sites out there with advice on what to include in a business plan so I won’t elaborate but only suggest that you find out who the current thought leaders are with regards to business plans and make sure you’ve covered everything. Two to three of the plans I read had critical elements missing.
    3. Write like a NY Times reporter. Write in clear, objective language and avoid unsupported claims. Investors pick teams in which they have developed trust. This trust begins with the words you put in your plan. Don’t sound like a playground braggart boasting about your future $1 billion business. Instead build your case piece by piece in an objective fashion using real data.  The key claims that you make in your plan should be well supported with evidence you’ve gathered through experimental learning or research.
    4. Market your team. Investors invest in people not plans. Several plans I read simply listed the names of the people involved, without any bio at all. This gave me no chance to get to know the team. Why should I invest in you? What makes you uniquely positioned for this opportunity? Showing personality is good.
    5. Find mentors to critique and edit your plan. There are two types of editors you should seek. First, and most importantly, find someone that has credibility in reviewing business plans and have them critique it for content and completeness. Find someone who won’t hold back on asking the hard questions. Judges will likely find these same weaknesses so knowing these in advance and doing something about them (even if you simply point the weakness out as a risk) will help inspire further trust that you have thought things fully through. Second, find someone who can help you with writing and tone (this being especially important for techie founders who may have floundered in English 101). A business plan is a marketing document for your business, so you need to ensure you are putting your best foot forward.

Good luck!

Former Schwab CMO and “mad woman” illuminates “talk to Chuck” case study in MBA advertising class

 
It’s Thursday afternoon, and in one of the University of Washington Foster School of Business classrooms, former Charles Schwab Chief Marketing Officer Becky Saeger was talking to MBA students about the experience of digging deep to revitalize a major brand. As the architect and marketing protagonist of the integrated “Talk to Chuck” campaign platform, Saeger had plenty to offer the students on this Harvard Schwab Case.
Former Schwab CMO Becky Saeger (middle) with Associate Dean Dan Turner and Senior Lecturer Elizabeth Stearns

She discussed the importance of the big picture marketing process. From there the focus was on the decision metrics, advertising strategy and execution, and ultimately how that contributed to Schwab’s overall brand objectives.

Saeger’s also great in her capacity as guest lecturer, which was her role in Marketing 540, taught by Elizabeth Stearns, senior lecturer. Saeger brings to life the lay of the land at Schwab. The year was 2004 and the CEO who hired her was replaced by Charles “Chuck” Schwab himself, reclaiming his role as CEO of the $4.2 billion company he founded in 1971. Saeger reinforced the problem as described in the Harvard case, on the potential for losses and eroding customer loyalty, as the company struggles to fulfill its promise to the individual investor.

Following Professor Stearns’ lead, Saeger asked as many questions as she answered. One interesting aspect of this class is that Stearns does not play the role of professor—but rather that of a marketing client. Students have formed teams acting as advertising agencies vying for Stearns’ business. There’s very little handholding – and that’s good, because as any marketing agency veteran will attest, clients expect initiative and brilliance. The students demonstrated considerable chutzpah—one memorable moment occurring when a student agency, Drapers’ Disciples, turned down Saeger’s request for an additional $50 million budget with their excellent ROI analysis.

In the end Saeger won out with exceptional rationale; moreover, she proved success.

This teaching model brings intense realism into the classroom, as do guests like Becky Saeger.  There was an exhilarating quality to the session, and an overwhelming sense that Foster MBAs are getting the best of rigor where it intersects relevance to their futures.

As a side note, there was some irony that the ‘agency’ challenging Saeger’s budget request was “Draper’s Disciples.” As it turns out, she began her career at Ogilvy & Mather in NY, where she made a name for herself with global brand campaigns for American Express, among other clients. A true Madison Avenue prodigy.

MBA Challenge for Charity 2012: sports weekend, 2nd place

Guest post by Jay Winzler (MBA 2013), 2012-2013 Foster School MBA Challenge for Charity president

Dodge ball…last time I played dodge ball was in 5th grade. If my memory serves me right, I was pretty good back then.

ZING! I managed to avoid the first ball, but the second one knocked me out of the game. The next three games were no different. Apparently I’m not as quick as I used to be. That’s okay, the women’s basketball game was about to start and I wanted to join the Dawg Pack as we cheered them in the championship game against Stanford.

Sports Weekend is an annual event in which Foster students join students from 8 other MBA programs including Stanford, UCLA, USC and Berkeley to celebrate our year of hard work in volunteering and fundraising for local charity organizations. The weekend is filled with sunshine, new friends, school spirit and competitions in every type of event imaginable. Team sports – football, ultimate, volleyball, trivia. Individual sports – swimming, running, spelling bee and just for fun – cheerleading, battle of the bands and challenge races. At the end of the weekend, there is an epic celebration and the program that has raised the most money, volunteered the most hours and successfully competed in the most sports is announced as the winner of the coveted Golden Briefcase.

Foster is famous at Sports Weekend. We are known for our terrific student turnout, fun-loving personalities and because the men arrive with creative and sometimes hilarious facial hair. After a sun-filled Saturday of sports, new friends and school spirit, we ended with the annual Battle of the Bands. Death Spiral, the favorite UW band, got the party started with a rousing song by Seattle favorite Nirvana before following up with the entire crowd singing along to Cee-Lo’s “Forget You.”

2nd place among 9 West Coast universities

UW has a history of winning the Golden Briefcase and yet again we were in the hunt! Everybody was on edge as the final announcement was made. UW took 2nd place in both volunteer hours and fundraising efforts and took 2nd place overall. WHOO HOO! Although we didn’t win Sports Weekend this year, our hard work (over 1,600 volunteer hours) and effort was justified with a 2nd place finish.

On Sunday, we took one last chance to sit by the pool and top off our tans, said goodbye to our new friends, traded business cards (we are MBA students after all) and shared a few more stories. It was hard to leave California, but I, for one, was excited to get back to Seattle. I had a speech to prepare. I finished my quantitative methods homework on the plane and after landing checked a voicemail from my friend and co-president:

“Hey Jay, it’s Jessica. I had a great weekend, so much fun. That football game was intense! We need to talk. It’s time to start strategizing about how we are going to win the Golden Briefcase next year. Oh yeah, one other thing. Please shave, your mustache is scaring the little kids.”

2012 Business Plan Competition innovations inspire

Business plan competitions are never just isolated, one-off events. Instead, not only do they help advance the participant innovations along their entrepreneurial paths, but such competitions also help identify overall trends and patterns. What we learn from watching changes in participation, the width and breadth of the ideas and the increasing professionalism of submissions over the years may also serve as an indication of where our economy is (or will be) heading and how prepared our emerging innovators are to address it.

As the University of Washington Foster School of Business’ 2012 Business Plan Competition gets underway, student co-chairs Alan Blickenstaff and Annie Koski-Karell (both MBA 2013) wrote a submissions review letter noting key developments. Letter excerpts:

The first submission I picked up from the daunting stack of papers in front of me described an innovative online service that would connect entrepreneurs seeking funding to would-be investors. Out of the gate, I knew I was in for a fun and inspiring time. Indeed, I was: the entries I reviewed ran the gamut from high-tech cooking tools to DIY veggie gardens in wooden boxes. Across the board, participants demonstrated a remarkably creative, savvy ability to pinpoint business opportunities among a myriad of industries. In addition to the plans addressing some of the more familiar sectors such as medicine and fashion, I was introduced to businesses in fields that I was completely unfamiliar with, including drone aircraft manufacturers and crowd-sourced charity funds. Before I knew it, the stack had disappeared. I came away brimming with excitement for this year’s competition, and more glad than ever for the privilege to be a part of it.

This year, 101 teams of students submitted their innovations, visions and start-ups to the Business Plan Competition. While most entrants classified their idea as a technology or consumer product, the ventures continue to blur the lines between industries. Current trends include a focus on food (15% of plans feature innovations to help you source, cook and enjoy your favorites), crowd-funding platforms, language learning tools, and creating social networks for motivational and educational purposes (such as getting in shape or learning to program). Additionally, 2012 sees environmental innovation infused throughout all categories with focuses on local, efficient and sustainable ideas. Not only does this year’s field represent a wide range of ideas, but the entrepreneurs are already getting their ventures off the ground; more than 25% of entrants have incorporated their venture, raising nearly $400K in combined seed capital and generating more than $120K of earned revenue thus far.

This year’s cohort of young entrepreneurs also represents an amazing range of northwest schools. Nine regional universities are represented with their innovations: Bainbridge Graduate Institute, Eastern Washington University, Evergreen State College, Gonzaga University, Seattle University, Seattle Pacific University, University of Washington, Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University. Additionally, several teams include partnerships across universities, including team members from UCLA, UC Davis, University of Montana, and University of Tokyo.

Follow the 2012 UW Business Plan Competition on Facebook, or search #UWBPC12 on Twitter. The competition is the largest Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship annual event.

Foster students win 2012 international marketing case competition

On March 3, 2012, an undergraduate case competition team from the University of Washington Foster School of Business won the Intercollegiate Marketing Competition held at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. Eight teams were tasked with developing a marketing plan for Zajak Ranch, a non-profit summer camp for disabled children.

Looking to become financially self-sustaining while attracting the next generation of donors and corporate sponsors, the camp had asked students to find ways to increase revenues during the winter months while also signing reoccurring monthly donors in the younger demographic. Teams were given only three hours to deliberate, design a full presentation and practice before immediately giving a 20-minute presentation with 15 minutes of Q&A. Only four teams would then move on to the final round where they would present in front of a panel of judges consisting of marketing professionals, members of the camp’s management, as well as the managing member of the Zajak family.

Foster’s team consisted of Allen Kuceba, Alex Diaz and Caitlin Snaring, all members of the American Marketing Association student organization. Kuceba is a senior with a focus in finance and entrepreneurship, Diaz is a senior focused on marketing and communications and Snaring is a junior focused on marketing and accounting. The three were selected from a pool of applicants from the UW American Marketing Association.

“I am extremely proud of this team. They worked hard practicing case analysis and presentation skills. With only three hours to prepare, they demonstrated the ability to critically analyze a business problem and develop a viable solution,” says faculty advisor Leta Beard, who coached the students.

Foster team wins national minority MBA case competition

An MBA team from the University of Washington Foster School Business and Economic Development Center took first place at the 2012 National Minority MBA Case Competition held at the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University.

The team of first-year Evening MBA students, Brent Bauslaugh, Ben Lapekas, Ksenia Karpisheva and Rakesh Saini, beat out teams from 18 other business schools from around the US including University of California Los Angeles, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana University and Boston College. The grand prize for Foster’s Evening MBA students? $7,500. Additionally, Lapekas was recognized as the best presenter and Bauslaugh won first place for best question and answer session.

All 18 competing teams had 20 minutes to provide a solution to a case dealing with strategic choices for third party commercial loan servicing business at Key Bank. “Our students’ ability to handle ambiguity of the case and yet provide firm recommendations backed up with hard data were ultimately what differentiated them from the rest,” says team advisor Geraldine Rodriguez, assistant director at the UW Business and Economic Development Center.

EJ Burke, Key Bank’s head of real estate capital and corporate banking services adds, “The University of Washington team’s presentation represented a thorough understanding of a very complex and difficult case. Their recommended solutions were actionable and thought provoking.”

A team from the UW Business and Economic Development Center has placed in the top three teams nationally for the past four years for this diversity competition.

Each fall, the Business and Economic Development Center hosts a UW Foster School of Business internal Diversity in Business Case Competition in order to select the team of MBA students who represents Foster at the national competition.

MBA Challenge for Charity: game on

Music and mountains. Pursuits that quicken pulses around the Pacific Northwest. So, too, at the University of Washington Foster School of Business.

Check out this video of Foster’s MBA house band—Death Spiral—laying down a thumping soundtrack to images of the inaugural MBA team charity climb of Mount Rainier in 2011. Both efforts were conceived and driven by students in Foster’s Full-Time and Evening MBA Programs. And both were components of the school’s year-long campaign in the MBA Challenge for Charity (C4C).



C4C is the annual competition among nine west coast business schools to raise the most money and work the most volunteer hours for local service organizations. The Foster School has won the C4C “Golden Briefcase” seven of the past 11 years, raising over $1 million and volunteering more than 15,000 hours for Special Olympics Washington and the Boys & Girls Clubs of King County.

Last year’s Rainier push landed 11 MBA mountaineers on the summit of Washington’s highest peak. The climbers also raised $7,000 for C4C charities. The MBA band rocked the C4C competition weekend at Stanford University, part of a growing tradition of sonic boom at the Foster School.

Mountains and music are a go for 2012, too.

This year’s Mount Rainier climb is scheduled for August and training has already begun. Organizer Scott Heinz and first-year MBA Jack Hogin hope to guide as many as 24 MBAs up two different routes. And Death Spiral, led by Nick Wilson (bass) and Mike Warady (drums), is back and amped for another epic concert at Stanford in May (not to mention numerous events in the run-up).

The primary C4C fundraiser is Foster School’s annual MBA Challenge For Charity auction, which takes place on February 25 from 5:30-11 p.m. at the Seattle Sheraton. Mardi Gras is the theme. You get the picture—a good time for a good cause.