2011 Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition under way: Participating students begin workshops to develop their ideas

Posted by Julia Leef


30 students have submitted intent-to-compete forms in the Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition, which will take place over the course of the academic year, hoping to get a share of the $25,000 that will be awarded to students with the best business plans.

The competition is named for Kenneth A. Freirich '90, a serial entrepreneur and president of Health Monitor Network, who returned to the College in 2010 as its first Entrepreneur in Residence. The first competition took place last year.

"One of the things that we're most excited about is that our students are really adept at saying there's a problem that needs to be solved, and they devise ways to solve that problem," said Tim Harper, associate professor and chairman of the management & business department, who along with Roy Rotheim, professor of economics, and Ken Freirich, is organizing and running the competition.

Students will go through a series of workshops until Dec. 9, led by Alison Frey '12 and Todd Powell '12, members of Rotheim's Skidmore-Saratoga Entrepreneurial Partnership, which take place on Tuesdays. These workshops are designed to help participants write a comprehensive business plan and modify it into a presentable format.

"Last year there were only 14 business plans submitted out of the 30 [intents to compete]," Rotheim said. "What we're hoping is that by having this business plan writing workshop is to raise our percentage to 20-25 submissions, and secondly to improve the quality of each of those business plans that are submitted."

Rotheim said that there is a wide diversity of students who are participating in the competition in regards to majors and class years. "It's consistent with what Ken Freirich hoped -- to tap the talents of a wide diversity of students on campus," he said.

The first stage of business plans are due on Jan. 25, when they will be sent to the a panel of judges comprised of successful entrepreneurs, local and non-local, who will review them before the executive summary presentations on Feb. 10.

From these entrants the judges will choose seven finalists, who will then move on to work with Frey and Powell, as well as an alum or parent who is a successful entrepreneur business person and will serve as their mentor. The revised business plans will be due on April 2, followed by the final presentations on April 13, after which three finalists will be chosen to receive funds for their projects.

"It's going to be a very exciting time for us to see the graduation of the proposals in terms of quality," said Harper, referring to the two stages of the competition that students will have to refine their plans.

"I think what it's going to do is it's going to make a more even playing field," Rotheim said. It'll make sure that the English major has just as much of a chance as the management and business major."

One of last year's seven finalists, a group consisting of first-years Zach Rohde '14, Malcolm Perry '14, and Thomas Sellers '14, set up a "MyBad Industries," after receiving the rights to the phrase, "my bad." The company will produce t-shirts and other, as Zach dubs it, "apology lifestyle clothing."

The business proposals are in a variety of stages at this point, with some seeking to improve pre-existing businesses and others merely existing as ideas. One student is writing a business plan for a smartphone application that will notify students when their laundry on campus has finished, as well as where the available machines are.

Rotheim said that one thing he enjoys about this competition is that it brings out the talents of students who have the drive to accomplish something instead of just thinking about it. Harper added that having access to campus resources for the competition also gives students aspiration, even if they do not end up as finalists.

"If a student has an aspiration," he said, "well, that seed has been planted for five years, six years, seven years down the road."

The third organizer and sponsor of the event, Freirich, devotes himself to the competition and is very excited for this year's batch of students, said Harper and Rotheim.

Freirich will be treating all of the participants to dinner at the restaurant Harvest & Hearth to mingle and become acquainted with him and with each other. "He loves this," Rotheim said, "and he inspires them [the students], and so he is so much more than just the person who has come up with the money."

Rotheim said that one of the things that they learned from last year's competition is that "the key to the success of a program at this level is the support services that we provide to the students at every level."

He also emphasized the importance of students working on their own without outside involvement. "When students are working by themselves and are creating their own curriculum, there is a powerful sense of ownership."

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