By Jacob Dolence, Faculty at Longwood University Cormier Honors College
What if an entire region came together to support its aspiring entrepreneurs? In its inaugural year, the SOVA Collegiate Business Plan Competition has accomplished just that.
The atmosphere in the virtual room for the first workshop of the competition was one of collaboration, hope, and excitement. Students from Longwood University, Averett University, Hampden-Sydney College, Danville Community College, and Patrick & Henry Community College showed up to a competition with a commitment to education and mutual support. The vibe of the students matched the vibe of this region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Rather than focusing on competing, we are working together to envision and implement a vibrant economic future.
When asked by facilitators to share, more experienced students stepped up and taught those with no experience. The workshop focused on helping the students to define their business models, conduct customer interviews, and access professional research to validate their ideas. The students worked collaboratively in a fun CO.STARTERS activity to come up with “horrible business ideas,” and create fictional business models. Through this activity, facilitators were able to explain the process and find teachable moments on a variety of topics ranging from marketing, financial planning, distribution, and much more.
The planning committee itself spans the divide with faculty, staff, and resource providers from the aforementioned colleges, the Southern Virginia Higher Ed Center, and the SOVA Innovation Hub. Individuals have committed to volunteering their time for six months to plan workshops, coach student teams, judge pitches, and mentor outside of their institutions. The majority of members of this group have been connected through the new SOVA RISE Collaborative. They have been working together on a region-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem building for almost two years.
Entrepreneurs and leaders in the community have also volunteered their time to provide technical expertise, connections, and leverage that may be needed to accelerate student ventures.
The students’ ideas range from technical apps to products that could be manufactured, to creative solutions for fitness, health, and beauty. These students commit to the future of our region and they are ready to go. Through the rest of the competition, mentors will help students to deepen their business models, identify real customers, and create plans to launch.
The next phase of the competition will put the student teams in front of a panel of experts to be interviewed on all aspects of their ideas. Teams will be expected to take feedback and incorporate it into their plans. The groups that advance to finals will participate in a pitch event and compete for up to $10,000 in prize money that will help to make their ideas a reality
One thing is for certain: if we can retain these talented college students and help support their business the future of the region is bright.
Want more information or would like to get involved?
We are always looking for more mentors, technical experts, and funders!
About the Author
Jacob Dolence, Faculty at Longwood University Cormier Honors College
Jacob grew up in Wyoming. While in high school he competed at the national Future Business Leaders of American competition. In college, he won a business plan competition and started an internet company to help students save money on textbooks. After graduate school, Jacob has worked at Northern Arizona University (Director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center), West Virginia University (Program Coordinator of the Leadership Academy), and now Longwood University. His teaching focuses on entrepreneurship and helping college students turn ideas into realities. In his spare time, he enjoys trail running, rock climbing, and cooking.