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Venture challenge: Students compete to win up to $15,000 for their businesses

More than 26 years ago, LSU ’s Louisiana Business and Technology Center was established. Since it’s creation, the center has become a cornerstone for innovation, opportunity and reinvention.

One of the ways this organization offers students opportunities is through its annual Student Incubator’s Venture Challenge. Student Incubator director Kenny Anderson explained what exactly the challenge is all about.

“So this is our fifth one, we’ve giving away $25,000 at each one…so, we’ve giving away over $100,000 just doing these events,” Anderson said. “Thirteen of the 16 businesses that we have funded are still around – so we’ve seen a really good success rate with it.”

Anderson explained that only members of the student incubator program are able to sign up for this challenge. From that point, these students are asked to write business plans. The top four business plans are chosen, and those contestants then move on to the final round, where they will pitch their businesses to a panelist of judges.

“This year, we had 23 first round submissions. It’s the most [submissions] we’ve ever had,” Anderson said. “So, the first round you have to write a business plan, which we help with the whole process, a lot of people started out with just blank paper. Then from those 23, four of them will go to the final round where they are guaranteed at least $1,000 if they make it to the final round.”

Anderson explained that the monetary rewards given to these contestants are giving through donations.

“We raise all of the money ourselves, which we are really proud of,” Anderson said. “It’s not LSU-money, it’s not State-money, it’s donations. We work really hard all year to raise money and the people that are giving it are passionate about it. They like to see it go to students and they like to see the students become successful.”

When it comes to the types of business pitches that are represented in this year’s challenge, Anderson said, “It’s across the board.”

“We have everything from app/software companies to T-shirt companies, fashion companies, service companies… we have everything.”

DIG spoke with two of the four finalists who are in the running to become 2016’s Venture Challenge winners.

One finalist, political science and history senior Aaron Koenck, said one of the reasons he joined the challenged was because it is a great way build his business.

“It wasn’t even about the money, it was about building a quality business,” he said. “It was all just a dry run for future business interactions…if I need an investor and things like that. That’s what really made me want to do it. I knew I could think through the business and build it out completely.”

Koenck’s business, Louisiana Decoy Company, is a company that specializes in decoys for waterfowl hunting, particularly goose and duck decoys.

“I’ve just built a new innovative goose decoy that makes it easier on hunters, it saves them money,” he said.

When it comes to the challenge itself, Koenck said one of the biggest struggles he faced throughout the process was “not being a business major.”

“I had to learn a lot of the lingo or terms around business,” he said. “I had to learn how to do financials and stuff like that. And I was doing this with people who are business majors or who have done these types of things before, so that was a little tough.”

Although, Koenck has faced a few challenges he during the process, he said he’s excited for the big day to arrive.

“I feel that this is a once in a life time opportunity, so I’m excited,” he said.

Excitement, along with a bit of nervousness is how finalist, Reed Stephens described his feelings for the big day.

The mechanical engineering sophomore said he and his brother Riley began their wood watch business, Ambici, LLC , because of their love for carpentry and wearing watches.

“I’m in engineering and for one of my classes I had to actually tear down a mechanical watch movement and most people don’t realize there’s so much that goes into these little things, it blows my mind,” Stephens said. “It’s really cool how someone way back years ago figure out how that could work.”

“And on top of that I feel like every guy goes through a watch phase, at least at some point in their life. I was going through that phase when we started and the wooden has more of a sentimental value. My brother and I, as we were growing up our dad was a carpenter, his dad was a carpenter…so, some of our earliest memories are waking up on a Saturday and making wooden airplanes and things like that. It just kind of ties back to our childhood.”

Stephens said he decided to do the challenge because it was good motivation to write a good business plan. He said the potential to win a cash prize could really benefit his company with various things that could move his company forward.

One of the biggest struggles Stephens said he’s faced throughout the process was balancing school while writing the business plan.

“A business plan is not just an essay or something like that, you have to think about not only where you are now in the company but also the future of the company and where you see it going,” he said. “You have to think about the market details and things like that. So, it’s more than just writing a document, you’re making decisions and doing research.”

The challenge ends on April 13 at Lod Cook Hotel from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. where the winner will be announce live. To find out who won, be sure to check out our feature on the winner in next week’s issue.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Reveille.


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