The Connecticut New Venture Competition is a semiannual collegiate business plan competition that creates opportunities for teams of Connecticut-based students to learn about entrepreneurship, gain experience writing business plans and compete for startup support services and cash grants.
Mike Roer, President of the Entrepreneurship Foundation, has been the administrator of the Connecticut New Venture Competition since 1997. Roer became involved in the competition when he was executive director of the Connecticut Venture Group.
As Roer explains, the competition started because there was a net outflow of capital from Connecticut. “There’s a great deal of wealth in Connecticut; however, there are hotter beds of entrepreneurship and innovation and development in other places, such as Boston, New York City and Silicon Valley,” Roer noted. “When we asked venture capitalists why they weren’t investing more here in Connecticut they told us that there wasn’t an entrepreneurial culture in Connecticut.”
Roer decided it was time to play catch up. “We thought we needed to devote some attention and resources to encouraging our sons and daughters to think about entrepreneurship as a career and formulating plans for new businesses around their ideas, dreams and innovations. We needed to work to convince them to stay here in Connecticut and start companies here rather than to pack up and move west.”
BUILDING AN ENTREPRENEURIAL CULTURE IN CONNECTICUT
The intention for the Connecticut New Venture Competition was to help build an entrepreneurial culture in Connecticut, which Roer says is where economic development starts. “Everybody wants more $100 million dollar companies, but if you want more $100 million dollar companies, you need more $1 million companies. It has to start from somewhere.”
The Entrepreneurship Foundation assumed responsibility for the competition in 2005. Roer says the goal of the Entrepreneurship Foundation is to promote entrepreneurship and more businesses in Connecticut and to help those businesses get started with less risk and expense.
“We leverage resources taxpayers have already paid for, which includes working with more than 20 colleges and universities in Connecticut,” he explained. “The buildings are already there. There are expert professors of business, IT, design and engineering. There are computers, software, media rooms and a lot of talented students. We leverage those resources to create wealth and jobs and new businesses here in Connecticut.”
The Entrepreneurship Foundation works to encourage entrepreneurship in Connecticut colleges and universities. “Our strategy is to work with the deans and entrepreneurship professors to help them do a more effective job of teaching entrepreneurship and recruiting and inspiring more students,” Roer said.
“The Connecticut New Venture Competition provides recognition to excellence and business planning. It’s the same idea that the National Collegiate Athletic Association does for athletics. The process of bringing teams of students together from different universities to compete on the business playing field helps to create that culture and interest in economic development,” Roer added.
PROVIDING OPPORTUNITIES AND MAKING CONNECTIONS
To compete in the Connecticut New Venture Competition, the team leader and primary presenter must be enrolled in a Connecticut college or university. Teams can apply through a professor and each team must have a faculty adviser from a Connecticut college or university.
The Entrepreneurship Foundation operates the competitions twice a year, in April and December. According to Roer, Connecticut is probably one of the first states to run a business plan competition and possibly the only state that runs one in the fall and the spring.
Roer says running two competitions provides more opportunities to more student teams.
Competition prizes vary from year to year. In a given year the Entrepreneurship Foundation typically awards $30,000 to 40,000 in cash and business services from a variety of public and private companies including CTNext, the Angel Investor Forum, Kiernan Herner LLP, attorney Cliff Ennico, Big Bang, The Grove co-working space and reSET.
In addition, the Entrepreneurship Foundation recently received a grant from the SC2 Hartford Challenge. The foundation was awarded a third place, $75,000 prize for its economic development program.
“We are always looking for new sponsors and we try to connect the award with to the mission of the donor,” Roer emphasized. “Obviously, CTNext is very interested in what we do, promoting entrepreneurship and the development of new businesses, so it’s a good fit for them.”
As another example, to promote manufacturing, the Entrepreneurship Foundation approached Allstar Products Group, which is known for the “As Seen On TV” consumer products, to donate a cash prize for the best new product. They agreed. Big Bang in New Haven offered to provide free consulting on product design and engineering and sourcing manufacturing.
CREATING A FOUNDATION FOR FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS
According to Roer, professors and students are very excited about the Connecticut New Venture Competition.
“We have about 20 universities that participate on and off, it depends on how strong their entrepreneurship program is that year. One year the competition might have a dozen schools. In a five-year period, there may be 20 different schools.”
The Connecticut New Venture Competition has also had a variety of winners, from online tools and apps to a hand-held devices to a lawn robot.
Roer says it can be difficult to track the winners after they graduate, but providing follow-through support services is one of the Entrepreneurship Foundation’s future goals. “We want to help entrepreneurial students be successful,” he said. “They’ve graduated, earned a trophy, received an encouragement grant and written a great business plan. Now what?”
The intent is to provide continuing resources. “A lot of students are serious about starting a new business after they graduate,” Roer pointed out. “The Entrepreneurship Foundation wants to continue to work with them step by step on their business ventures. If we do that, we’ll also be able to do a better job of tracking how those people do because we’re maintaining a relationship and continuity of communications.”
The Entrepreneurship Foundation has an association of professors and entrepreneurs in place who gather several times a year. “Recently, we’ve been working toward transitioning from entrepreneurship education to entrepreneurship implementation—actually helping the students start before they graduate. Connecticut colleges and universities can provide a lot more assistance to young entrepreneurs while they are still enrolled,” Roer said.
”We then need to continue that support after the students graduate, meeting with them every month, reviewing what they’ve accomplished, helping them to set goals for the next month and connecting them to the resources they need to meet those goals,” he continued.
“We can connect students to a sort of generalist case manager, a chief mentor who would be assigned to each team. Then that general practitioner would in turn refer those teams to specialists as needed, specialists in fundraising or in social media marketing, for example,” he explained. “So we’ve got the plan and we’re in the process of trying to raise the money for it.”
Visit the Entrepreneurship Foundation for more information.