Illinois students with the goal of becoming their own boss will be participating in a local competition created to equip them with all the tools to turn their ideas into reality.
Sponsored by the George R. and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Illinois State University, the 2018 Startup Showcase business competition will take place Friday, November 2, at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Bloomington, Illinois.
The contest is designed to link contestants to valuable resources from mentors to potential investors.
“We want to help grow them into entrepreneurs, and the way you do that is by consistently coaching and mentoring them,” Terry Noel, Ph.D., associate director of the Martha Means Center said last year.
There are also hefty financial rewards at stake. Students could win up to $6,000, enough to lift their businesses off the ground.
Three minutes to convince investors
To apply, students didn’t need to present an elaborate business plan. There were also no eligibility requirements related to the field of study. Instead, organizers were looking for youth with a great vision and a convincing elevator pitch to deliver to a panel of investors and entrepreneurs.
Last year there were 18 entrants from various fields of study, including education, communication, interior design and finance.
“Our goal is to get the message of entrepreneurship out to a wide number of people. If you take someone from the arts or sciences or (political science), they’re not going to speak the language of business plans and feasibility analyses and all of that, so we wanted to have a format that welcomed them,” Noel explained.
During the first round, contestants each had three minutes to share their business concept with a room full of experts.
The finalists then gave a longer presentation and answered concrete questions about their plan of action.
The winning startup ideas couldn’t be more varied.
The First Hand Museums startup, won first place. It aims to help teachers enhance their classroom lessons. Second place went to Prisma Systems, which develops technology for streamlining online product sales and third place was awarded to My Arena, a platform for freelancers.
While there is no fee to attend the Startup Showcase, members of the public, outside students and faculty members, must register on the event’s Eventbrite page.
So far, the contest has helped launch quite a few successful companies.
Previous winners include Jon Korsgard and Alexander Steenbergen of Scandles, Brian Souza of Bizz Baits, and Mike Shannon and Kasey Gandham of Packback Books.
Some, like Packback Books, even made it to ABC’s “Shark Tank.”
The company started as an e-textbook rental operation and managed to convince Mark Cuban to invest $250,000 in exchange for 20% equity. After raising another $900,000 in seed funding, Packback is currently pursuing an even bigger endeavor: bringing artificial intelligence to college classrooms.
In healthcare, business competitions harness innovation
When it comes to healthcare, competitions like Startup Showcase are a true furnace of innovation. For the past few years, the health industry has been undergoing a transformation and startups were at the forefront of it.
Illinois is a great example of how small companies hatched inside universities are disrupting the way life-threatening diseases are being treated.
Oxalo Therapeutics, a University of Chicago biotech startup, for example, received a $2.3 million grant to work on developing of a first-of-its-kind drug to prevent kidney stones.
In fact, 62 percent of drugs approved in 2017 came from pint-sized companies.
That was enough to convince venture capitalists, who invested $15 billion in healthcare startups during the first half of 2018 – 70% more than last year, according to a recent analysis by Pitchbook.
Pharma companies came to realize that the best way to come up with ideas for blockbuster drugs or smart devices is by investing heavily in those who already have them, but lack connections or funding. Take for instance Johnson & Johnson. The company owns JLABS incubators, which host over 40 startups, giving them access to state-of-the-art labs, industry experts and potential investors.