So, the other week (I honestly don’t remember when exactly) the University of Alabama had entrepreneurial week. A lot of the activities were somewhat exclusive. However, some were open to the public. I decided to go to one of the events. It turned out to be a lot of fun and instructive. They provided complimentary refreshments. Also, I was able to talk with Birmingham entrepreneur Steve Hines. He owns MaxFlowSports.
Then, the main event was an entrepreneurial pitch showcase. Basically, five teams got in front of four judges and pitched their business idea in a few minutes. After their pitch, they had five minutes for questions from the judges. The judges grilled them, looking for any holes in their ideas.
One group had a really solid idea, but it was very small-scale. Basically, they wanted to put on an annual fashion show on campus. Their had the least amount of holes, but also the least potential. One of the judges alerted the rest of us that their idea was essentially a pop-up store. Here’s a nice article about it.
The second team has taken their idea from PieLab. Basically, they wanted to be a for-profit design team that offers charitable services. Their idea was solid, but a little unrealistic. They talked about being able to work out of their homes. Mr. Hines pointed out that a legit business, even if you are operating out of your home, has a high start-up cost. They were impressive by handing out polished portfolios. The last three presentations were not teams, but solo presenters.
One was recruiting the Paleo diet. If you look on the website, the Paleo diet makes sense, but the presenter did a really poor job of explaining it to those of us who didn’t know anything about it. To his credit, he had already worked his idea into a successful business. However, he did not have a proper business license or business insurance.
The fourth presenter was super nervous. He was presenting an idea for non-profit micro-finance organization. He doesn’t seem to understand the risk involved in working with loans.
The fifth presenter was the worst of all. She seemed to think she could run a successful magazine publication by getting the United Way to allow her space in their annual publication. The judges pointed out that getting permission from the United Way would be highly unlikely. Secondly, printing a magazine is expensive. The presenter seemed to think printing at Kinko’s would be successful. Thirdly, trying to sell ad space for a publication within another publication was iffy at best.
At any rate, it was instructive to see what it’s like to pitch a potential business idea in front of a panel. You have to have done your research and know your idea and any parallel ideas front to back. You have to be able to explain your idea well and know additional items like funding, audience, timing, etc. There’s a lot involved.
After the pitches, guest speaker Leslie Dees presented a speech on entrepreneurship. Leslie said that the entrepreneur has to be prepared to be a different beast. He said you don’t become an entrepreneur for the money, but for the passion of your concept. An entrepreneur cannot expect to work a 9-5 schedule. It doesn’t work that way. That’s why working for a company is good: the familiar, the semi-regular schedule. As an entrepreneur, you will have to work an insane amount of hours at all hours of the day (and night).
Two of the most important things Leslie touched on were things Briggs talks about in Entrepreneurial Journalism. To be an entrepreneur, you have to look at a roadblock as simply a speed bump to success. The successful entrepreneur disregards roadblocks when all logic says to do otherwise. When an entrepreneur faces a roadblock, they must get creative. Leslie said a good entrepreneur looks at their product as a living thing. Living things change and so should you. This was perhaps the most important point because it’s easy to follow routine and not think outside the box. If something is successful, you may not think about trying to modify your product. But an entrepreneur should always try to stay on the cutting edge.