Business Plan Competition

Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Friday, May 18, 2012 at 9:45 AM PDT

The finals of the 14th annual Harriet Stephenson Business Plan Competition took place on May 17th.  The winner was Populous Legal Services, a team of law students.  Unfortunately, I did not catch their presentation, so I cannot tell you about their concept, but I am sure it is good because their competition was very formidable.  The two final presentations I did see were well done and built around very compelling products.  The law students enrolled in a business plan class jointly sponsored by Albers and the law school.  I would say the class definitely paid off for them, as in receiving the award they made it clear their concept was developed through the class!


Over 200 students, judges, mentors, coaches, and sponsors participated in the competition this year.  It has become a very powerful event and a significant learning experience for the students who participate, particularly those who make it to the final round.  It is a great benefit for Albers and SU to be able to draw upon so many volunteers from the Seattle community.  These volunteers are integral to the success of the competition.


Each year the final presentations get better and better.  The students are much further along in their planning than they used to be.  I attribute this to the powerful influence of their mentors.  Each team participating in the competition is assigned a mentor (assuming they want one, which they better be smart enough to accept!).  The mentor is a business professional with an entrepreneurial background, and they advise the students in putting together the plan.  Introducing mentors into the competition was the best thing we have done to raise the quality of the competition.  Our mentors really have an impact!


For a video on the impact of the competition on student learning, go to:


The two presentations I saw were In My Grandma's Kitchen and Lockstep Shoes.  They were both strong presentations by Nick Woog and Joe Lancaster, respectively.  Nick plans to bring out a series of organic food products under the (much more manageable) brand, "Joe's," named after his father.  The first product is an organic garlic sauce.  Lockstep Shoes will license a design concept that shoe brands can incorporate to make it easier for the elderly, the injured, and the handicapped to get in and out of their shoes.  Both these products were very compelling (Nick took the runner-up prize), so that is how I know that Populous Law must have made a great presentation of a great concept!


Scott Oki, well known Seattle entrepreneur and philanthropist, was the keynote speaker for the event.  He revealed that he grew up near Seattle U., at 14th and Yesler.  He made it clear that he did not grow up in a privileged environment, and ended up serving in the military and finishing his studies at the University of Colorado.  Scott also made it clear how hard one has to work to be successful, referencing his 90 hour work weeks and going years without a vacation. 


Since leaving Microsoft 20 years ago, most of his work has been as a social entrepreneur and philanthropist.  He highlighted two of his most recent ventures.  One is the Parents Union, which is a non-profit dedicated to pursuing school reform on a state by state basis.  It is designed to bring parents together who have an interest in pushing for K-12 school reform. 


The second recent venture is See Your Impact.  This is a social networking tool for "the bottom of the philanthropic pyramid," as Scott put it.  See Your Impact allows people who are raising smaller amounts of money to leverage social networking.  An important feature is to allow the donors to actually see how their contributions benefit recipients.  See Your Impact posts images and stories of the beneficiaries that donors can view.  A group of our MBA students are currently using See Your Impact in an initiative to raise money for the soon to be built St. Ignatius School in Rwanda. 


Scott's parting words of advice for students was, "Find your passion and go for it!!"


The business plan competition is aptly named after Professor Harriet Stephenson, a member of our faculty since 1967 and receiving an award this year for 45 years of service at SU!  Harriet started our activities in entrepreneurship in 1990, and we would not be where we are today without her pioneering activity and foresight.  In 1990, it was hardly clear to academics that entrepreneurship was a worthy area of study!  Now it seems obvious.


This was the last business plan competition with Steve Brilling as Executive Director of the Entrepreneurship Center.  Steve has been leading the center since 2004 and done a great job improving the quality of the competition each year.  Steve will be missed, but he is not leaving completely.  He will continue to play a role in our Family Business programs.


Kim Eshelman has served as Steve's administrative assistant since 2007.  She is stepping down to pursue her passion as an artist full time.  We will miss Steve and Kim and thank them for all their excellent work during their time with us!