The realm of entrepreneurship is “exploding” with opportunities, according to Terry Noel, Ph.D., associate director of the George R. and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Illinois State University. “Being in entrepreneurship is just plain fun. If you like new things, if you like creativity and using the human mind in a way that benefits people and is not boring, this is the best profession in the world,” he said.
Each fall, the Means Center invites entrepreneurial-minded students of all disciplines to spotlight their innovative business ideas and compete for funds to get their concepts off the ground through the Startup Showcase. This year, 18 entrants from such diverse fields of study as education, communication, interior design, and finance competed in the seventh annual event November 3 at the Bloomington DoubleTree Hotel by Hilton.
“Our philosophy has always been that entrepreneurship is not just about the College of Business. It is about all students from all areas of the university,” said Noel. “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.”
The night before the competition, the Means Center hosted an awards dinner to recognize the contributions made to entrepreneurship by local community members Bob and Julie Dobski and Illinois State alumna Katie Hill-Gottesman ’01. Students participating in the Startup Showcase attended the gala and displayed information about their business ideas, which ranged from designing clothing lines to recording tuba music.
“Not only does (the dinner) honor entrepreneurs, but it’s the first opportunity for our Startup Showcase contestants to mingle with our community,” said Mark Hoelscher, Ph.D., Means Center director, as he referenced the networking opportunities students have to find mentors, advisors, and even potential early stage investors.
In the first round of competition the next day, each student had three minutes in which to share his or her concept for a business startup. Noel noted the “rapid fire format” was designed to mimic “the type of environment they’ll face as they go out and try to get investors or partners interested in their idea. Judges from the area business community selected four finalists from the first round, and these students gave a longer presentation on their startup and answered questions about the business venture.
From among the finalists, first place was awarded to Andrew Frey’s startup First Hand Museum, which provides tools for teachers to enrich their classroom lessons. Isaac Dallas, Chris Richards, Jacob Dallas, and Kieran Blackermore received second place for their business Prisma Systems, which offers technology for helping stores sell products online more effectively. A lifestyle brand called My Arena presented by Eric Hamlin and Jeff Gourley’s Neighbor, an online platform for freelance laborers, also were honored by the judges.
These winners are eligible to receive financial support and in-kind professional services through the Means Center.
“We want to help grow them into entrepreneurs, and the way you do that is by consistently coaching and mentoring them,” said Noel. “When they graduate, we want them to be ready to take that next step. If we can just get that first little nudge out of the nest and give them a soft place to land, then we hope that some of these ideas will turn into viable businesses.”