Portland Business Journal Executive Editor Judges PACE Competition, Complements MBA Students
Salem, Oregon - May 15, 2009 - The weekly headlines on the Portland Business Journal reflect the challenges facing the economy. However, it is a refreshing treat when we can welcome the local media to our campus to see the exciting, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking projects completed by our MBA students.
That was the experience of the PBJ's Executive Editor, Matthew Kish, on a recent visit to Willamette. Kish judged the PACE (Practical Applications for Careers and Enterprises) new venture proposals on May 8. In last week's "Editor's Notebook," Kish provided a unique (and complementary) account of his experience.
Full Article Text - Copywrite American City Business Journals, Inc.:
"Business plan competition provides a welcome respite"
Since the start of the year, the phrase "lay off" has appeared in 63 articles in the Portland Business Journal. The word "bankruptcy" has appeared in 99 stories. Recession 167.
That's why I jumped at a chance to spend last Friday afternoon in Salem with MBA students at Willamette University's Atkinson Graduate School of Management. The school asked me to help judge a business plan contest, essentially the final exam for first-year students.
It sounded like a breath of fresh air compared to writing about factory closures and foreclosures notices.
The event took place in an "American Idol" format in the school's music hall. I sat with two other judges at a small table on the stage with our backs to the crowd.
The nine teams of roughly eight students each presented its business plan using a PowerPoint presentation on the stage's massive backdrop.
The ideas were disparate, but a distinctive socially-conscious Oregon thread wove through several of them.
One group wanted to work with non-athletic kids. Another wanted to make life easier for exchange students. A third wanted to encourage college athletes to volunteer in developing countries.
A fourth planned to develop financial literacy software for high school students. (I considered asking whether Wall Street investment bankers and credit default swap desks should be the target audience.)
I can only imagine the sleepless nights the students had before the competition. I survived the terror of defending a thesis in front of three faculty members at Reed College. And my classmates weren't there to watch.
At Willamette, they invite the entire MBA class to the business plan competition. At least 100 showed up.
Despite the nerve-racking set-up, and the Simon Cowell-inspired comments from the judges, the students performed brilliantly. Each was articulate and poised. The groups made compelling arguments for their business ideas.
Granted, the business plans oozed naivete. Launch a software company for only $2 million? No problem. Reduce salaries in year three so the business makes a profit? Employees won't mind.
Convince parents of unathletic kids to spend $400 per month on basketball lessons? No sweat.
The winning plan, a pet hotel business, was built on the assumption that it could land a $500,000 angel investment. In this economy, finding an investor with such deep pockets is nearly impossible, even for executives with decades of experience. A first-time business owner may as well buy scratch-off tickets.
Nonetheless, the group made a convincing argument for its ability to turn a profit despite the soft economy.
The optimism, creativity and commitment of the students is an encouraging sign for a state ravaged by unemployment.
But I gotta' run. The Columbian's bankruptcy case just had a big hearing. I also need to call back some creditors of what's left of G.I. Joe's. And I need to edit a Web story about a 127 percent spike in foreclosures.
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