A few weeks ago I took 14 enthusiastic college students to the annual Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization’s annual conference and elevator-pitch competition in Chicago. What an experience!
I have attended the last five years but this year was especially interesting…and troubling. First, I take students to see the pitch competition. According to C-E-O.org, The CEO Elevator Pitch Competition presents students with a great opportunity to pitch their business idea to a panel of judges and a chance to win cash prizes. Elevator pitch is a frequently used term, which literally means “tell me about your business within the time that it would take to ride up an elevator.” Presenting yourself effectively is an essential tool in the business arena. A well-planned elevator pitch can open the doors to success in your future endeavors. The ideas pitched may be at any stage of development from creation of concepts or ideas to an established business.
Each year, several students from the University of Missouri – Columbia, and specifically, the Flegel Academy for Aspiring Entrepreneurs attend and compete. These are students who might simply have a venture idea, or who might have already started a business.
A large part of the conference is devoted to plenary speakers such as:
Such a diversified, yet successful, group of young speakers is an inspirational experience for the 20-something college entrepreneur. However, and that is a BIG however, some of these speakers completely discounted the notion of the business planning process. In their energetic manner, many were just trying to engage students in entrepreneurship by getting them to just get started…just do it!
It makes me cringe to hear successful entrepreneurs teaching others to ignore the planning process. They are ignoring the gazillion (unsuccessful) entrepreneurs who just did it with no plan…and wasted time and money in the process. While I don’t believe that every aspect of the business needs to be documented in a lengthy business plan neither you, nor investors, will ever read, I do believe that it is imperative to research some key aspects of the business venture you are considering. For example, who is your target market? Who is your competition? What will you provide, in terms of product or service that others aren’t? How will you monetize the venture? How much money will it take? When will you actually make a profit? Where should you locate? What skills do you have to make this a success? What skills do you lack…where you may need to involve others to supplement your skills?
The business plan organizes the thought process into a coherent structure as some of these critical questions get answered. To ignore the process…to ignore the practical nature of understanding what you are getting into… doesn’t give anyone the confidence they need to be successful. Can you successfully ignore the business planning process? I suppose. Some of these speakers had. But the list of speakers who failed because they didn’t plan would take a year-long conference to present their mistakes. That would be a depressing conference to attend.
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