While events around the globe are cancelled amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics found a way to continue forward with its annual West Virginia Business Plan Competitions by taking it virtual.
Each finalist in both the high school and collegiate-level competitions virtually met with a panel of judges Thursday to pitch their business plans and answer questions.
“We know that students benefit the most from interaction with the judges who are business professionals and investors from across the country,” said Tara St. Clair, program lead of the Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which hosts the annual competitions. “We wanted to keep that connection, so we decided to utilize an online platform for the final presentations.”
Despite the challenges in this year’s competition, St. Clair said that the professionalism among these students was some of the best she has seen.
“The students have been extremely responsive and have shown great resilience,” she said. “The student response to the changes was truly inspiring. We kept them informed, and they were willing and ready to do whatever was needed to pull the competitions off in the new online format.”
The collegiate competition included 10 teams from seven West Virginia colleges and universities. WVU seniors Samuel Chico, a finance major and Kyle Seese, an industrial engineering major, won the STEM & Innovation category and a $10,000 grand prize for their proposal of Parthian Battery Solutions.
Parthian Battery Solutions offers low-cost, eco-friendly energy storage systems to consumers. Their unique process of repurposing retired EV battery modules from auto manufacturers will establish themselves as the premier cost leader for residential and commercial energy storage systems.
Moving to a virtual competition, though, posed a few problems for the duo, one being a lack of reliable internet connection.
“From the beginning, even before this whole pandemic outbreak, we were being thrown a lot of curveballs every step of the way, and this was just another one of those curveballs,” Chico said. “You learn to pivot, and I think that’s what separates a good entrepreneur from the rest of the pack.”
Some of those curveballs included not being able to finish building a model of the product in order to do demonstrations, as well as the cancellation of several other competitions in which they were also finalists. However, Seese said there was one positive to the competition moving online.
“My family was actually able to all watch us present,” he said. “That would not have happened if we were in-person. I had people dial in all the way from Louisiana.”
With the help of the competition, both Chico and Seese are looking forward to what comes next for Parthian Battery Solutions.
“With the money that we get from this, we’ll be able to finish the packaging development of our prototype and be able to leverage it, sit down with investors and show what our product can do,” Chico said.
Fellow WVU student Jesica Temple won the Lifestyle & Hospitality division and a $10,000 grand prize for her idea of the Shake It Out Fitness Flask. Temple is a Multidisciplinary Science major.
The product is a portable flask used to mix powder and supplements for active, health-minded people. Its patented design blends powders with liquids for a smoother tasting drink and can also be folded up and stored for reuse. Temple said the online format helped make the process less stressful, rather than posing new challenges.
“When I’m actually in front of a lot of people in person, I get more nervous, so being able to have this contest in the comfort of my own home, I was more relaxed,” she said. “I was able to draw a lot of energy from that, and I think I presented well in that regard.”
The Shake It Out Fitness Flask was also among the winners of ZinnStarter money made possible by Ray Zinn, founder of Micrel Semiconducters and the longest-serving CEO in Silicon Valley. This is the third year that Zinn gave money to the business plan competition.
Other recipients included Yard Service in a Box, West Virginia Storybook Wedding, WhatAdo, Passionate Paws Pet Pharmacy, LLC, Wireless Telemetry, Geel Socks and Emergency Activated Harness (EAH).
Eight teams competed in the high school level of the competition, with Work @ West Virginia from Bluefield High School junior Tucker Workman winning a $10,000 scholarship to a West Virginia institution. Work @ West Virginia is a consulting firm that provides business coaching and consultants to small businesses in West Virginia.
Workman said his goal is to excel the growth of small business by assisting in the day-to-day operations or by aiding a startup from the beginning. For a monthly fee, clients will have the firm’s resources at their fingertips to experience a one-on-one experience.
Mark Burdette of Triquetra Marketing, LLC, who served as a judge for the competition, will offer free business coaching to all of the finalists in the STEM & Innovation category for a period of one year. Additionally, Almost Heaven Media’s Harry Bell will offer all collegiate finalists one hour of free digital consulting services.
The West Virginia Collegiate Business Plan Competition is part of a national network that includes Brigham Young University, San Jose State University, Utah Valley University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The program is designed to allow students to create go-to-market plans, finish prototypes and ultimately be evaluated on the performance of their use of funding.
The Encova Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship is part of the WVU Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship Applied (IDEA) Ecosystem, a university-wide network of centers, offices and programs that fosters and supports innovation and entrepreneurship among WVU students, faculty and staff while engaging the statewide community.
CONTACT: Brittany Murray
Senior Writer, Office of Strategic Communications
John Chambers College of Business and Economics
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