Students vie for top prize in New Venture Championship

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A competition that some might consider the business plan Olympics comes to Portland when the New Venture Championship kicks off April 13 at Embassy Suites in dowtown Portland.

Sixteen teams from around the world will compete for more than $50,000 in cash prizes and a chance to get feedback and advice from notable Northwest business entrepreneurs. The teams, all comprised of graduate students, participate in several levels of competition, including a trade show and elevator pitches, along with the lightning, semifinal and final rounds.

With judges from Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Palo Alto Software and Silicon Valley Bank, the competition has gained a reputation for high quality and is accented with constructive criticism and valuable feedback, said John Hull, assistant dean for Portland programs in the Lundquist College and director of the competition.

“It’s more about education for us,” he said. “Some schools treat their competitions as pseudo-venture competitions, but we view it as an educational competition. We don’t expect them all to go out and raise Silicon Valley startup money, although some do. For the New Venture Championship, it’s about the educational experience. We focus on the coaching.”

Started in 1992, the New Venture Championship was a pioneer in business plan competitions and has evolved into a premiere international entrepreneurial investment test. This year saw 58 team applicants from across the world take a shot at the 16 semifinalist slots, including teams from Thailand and Hong Kong and a team from the UO. Embassy Suites, the competition site, is at 319 SW Pine St.

This year four undergraduate teams are competing with one another, along with a group of high school all-stars who participated in the UO’s Young Entrepreneur’s Business Week camp. The winners of high school competition will receive scholarships funds should they choose to attend the UO or Oregon State University.

An endowment from Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle and his wife, Mary, not only funds the competition but also the unique collaboration it has with the School of Journalism and Communication to create and publish the media campaign book for the event with the student-run agency Allen Hall Advertising. 

“Every year this group, with faculty advisors, put together all media, marketing campaigns and concept work for us,” Hull said. “And every year, a couple of those students find industry jobs based on having done this project.”

Along with the success of journalism students, several winners of the competition have gone on to start the businesses they pitched as concepts. The 2009 first-place team from Brigham Young University has successfully launched KT Tape, a lightweight tape that provides external support for athletes recovering from injuries.

The successes are due, Hull said, because of the feedback each team receives from judges, who point out details that have been overlooked or need improvement.

“It’s such a great lesson in being able to present your ideas in front of critical judges who have a lot of experience,” Hull said. “It’s the place where you take all of the things you learned in your classes and you integrate them together into a single concept. And it’s a lot of fun.”

—By Laurie Notaro, UO Communications