More bang, maybe some bucks Featured

9:49am EDT July 22, 2002

Think your business plan is pretty good? Here’s a way to find out, learn something and maybe win some serious money, as much as $50,000 if your plan passes muster.

But the money’s not all that EnterPrize, a business plan competition, offers area entrepreneurs. Organizers say participants will get the benefit of advice and coaching from successful business people, as well as valuable exposure to funding sources that may help them get their ventures off the ground or onto the fast-growth track.

The competition promises to generate viable business ideas, increase access to capital and grow the region’s entrepreneurial leaders by identifying and encouraging investment in new businesses,” says Sean McDonald, chairman of the Pittsburgh Technology Council, an EnterPrize sponsor.

EnterPrize was created through the partnership of local universities, businesses and development organizations. The goal is to invigorate Pittsburgh’s economy by bringing together ideas, capital, talent and business expertise to create growth companies. All told, $145,000 in prize money will go to entrepreneurs who assemble the best plans.

The competition, which runs from October until April, is spearheaded by Carnegie Mellon and Duquesne universities, the University of Pittsburgh, Innovation Works, McKesson HBOC Automated Healthcare, McKinsey & Co. and the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Participants plan to make the competition, which is similar to others sponsored by McKinsey & Co. in other cities, an annual event.

Events in other cities have been responsible for helping start-up ventures get off the ground and grab the attention of investors, even for companies that don’t win money prizes.

Organizers of EnterPrize expect that as many as 20 companies will receive venture capital or angel funding as a result of the competition. The trend in in successive years in competitions sponsored by McKinsey in other cities is that the mix among participants tends to shift from students to professionals.

The competition is intended to spur the creation and development of growth companies, defined as companies that aspire to generate revenue in the tens of millions of dollars in a short time frame. Existing companies may also enter, provided they are incorporated within the 13 counties specified, have annual revenue of $1 million or less, employ fewer than 20 people and have raised less than $500,000 in capital.

While the competition is not limited to technology businesses, the sponsors expect that most growth companies will come out of the technology sector. A gas station, the sponsors explain, is not a growth company, but if you have an innovative plan to open alternative fuel supply stations across Southwestern Pennsylvania, you may be a good candidate.

EnterPrize is advertising to get the word out, and sending brochures to university alumni and trade organizations. Speakers are being dispatched to schools and entrepreneurial groups at local colleges and universities.

The competition will be staged in three phases and structured as a learning process, complete with seminars, workshops and networking events. The phases will guide participants through the business planning process by requiring them to complete a detailed outline of the plan in the first phase, a draft business plan in the second and a refined plan in the third phase.

Prizes will be awarded at each level, and all companies that decide to continue through the entire process may do so.

“We have found that the competition process serves to educate participants and stimulate new business activity, regardless of who wins the contest,” says Christopher Leech, a partner at McKinsey.

For more information about the competition, visit EnterPrize at www.enterprizepgh.org, e-mail McKinsey & Co. at biz_plan@mckinsey.com, phone (412) 804-3060 or fax (412) 804-2800.

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is associate editor at SBN.