MC Business Students to Pitch Promising Plans During Spring Entrepreneurship Forum
Entrepreneurs are the engine that drives economic growth in the U.S. By envisioning and creating new products and services, entrepreneurs stimulate employment, which accelerates economic development.
Successful entrepreneurship requires a combination of skills that have been carefully cultivated by faculty in the School of Business at Mississippi College. Many of the school’s brightest students participate in an independent entrepreneurial club – called “Think Tank” – that inspires the next generation of business innovators in the state.
The Think Tank student group is one of the products that resulted from the creation of the J.L. Holloway Center for Entrepreneurship at Mississippi College. The center is named for the famed Mississippi entrepreneur and self-made industrialist. Holloway launched HAM Marine and is also the founder of Tenax Aerospace. Holloway received an honorary Doctor of Business degree from MC in 2016 to salute his generous support to the University.
Many of the Think Tank participants’ most promising ideas will be unveiled during the seventh annual Entrepreneurship Forum April 6-7 at Vicksburg’s Thad Cochran Mississippi Center for Information and Technology and the Vicksburg Convention Center.
Hosted by the University of Mississippi’s McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement and Innovate Mississippi, a nonprofit organization that has developed more than 1,500 new companies throughout the state, the event brings together leading entrepreneurs, economic developers, innovators, and future business owners to learn more about the entrepreneurial climate and the future of entrepreneurship in Mississippi. It is part of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Initiative funded by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation.
The forum will include educational sessions and panels on technology and innovation, student entrepreneurship, and the state’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. But the most highly anticipated event is the NextUp Business Plan Competition, an avenue for students to pitch projects with viable business plans to academic and business experts.
Seven aspiring entrepreneurs at MC are scheduled to compete against students from the state’s other four-year colleges and universities in a fast-paced, “Shark Tank”-style business environment. The students will deliver their pitches, display their prototypes, and attempt to convince a panel of business professionals and investors that their ideas could gain traction in the uber-competitive business market. The Mississippi Development Authority will award monetary prizes to the most promising presentations to help students develop their ideas to the creation stage.
John Brandon, instructor and director of the J.L. Holloway Center for Entrepreneurship at MC, said Think Tank students have traditionally performed very well in the competition, even securing second and third prizes during the last forum.
“Our students are very involved in that competition,” said Brandon, who specializes in small business creation and business growth strategies. “We take students from one of our senior-level entrepreneurial courses and have them put together a new business venture idea, write a new business plan, and give a complete presentation.
“As we train these students to go out and attempt to run a new business venture successfully, we help them take the concepts of the businesses they have and run it through their paces so they’re comfortable talking to investors or venture capital firms. This lets our students really shine when they leave MC.”
One of Brandon’s students that will participate in the NextUp competition and will also serve as a panelist at the forum. Everest Benson, a junior business entrepreneurship major from Ann Arbor, Michigan, will be pitching his plan for Nicotine Relief Therapy Coffee.
“It is coffee that contains nicotine for the purpose of helping people quit smoking, vaping, or whatever other use of nicotine they have,” said Benson, who serves as Think Tank events coordinator and incoming president. “Once the concept is finalized, it should be very simple to produce, but the trial, testing, and proof-of-concept stage is the most complicated due to laws and regulations.
“The benefit would be to current nicotine users, creating a nicotine relief therapy that is simple to use and does not deviate them from their everyday lifestyles, since 93 percent of smokers also drink coffee.”
The concept is so promising that Benson is scheduled to present “NRT Coffee” to forum attendees as part of the official program the day after the NextUp competition.
“The presentation will focus mostly on the background of current nicotine relief therapies, how NRT Coffee is different, and how it has the possibility to capture a significantly large market share,” he said. “I want the audience to understand that there is not always one right way to do something. The largest ‘stop smoking’ advocates in society push for the ‘cold turkey’ approach to nicotine, even though relief therapies are proven to work significantly better.
“I want everyone to understand that using what people are already familiar with is a more effective approach than using a foreign object.”
Carter Zatechka, a senior business administration major and entrepreneurship minor from Memphis, is a first-time participant in the NextUp competition, but his business proposal also has promise. Zatechka, Think Tank’s director of marketing, will be pitching a mobile app called “Summit” that would help attendees of professional conferences and seminars capture the vast array of information presented to them.
“When people attend these meetings, they are usually given a pamphlet or piece of paper that doesn’t have a whole lot of information, and they’re not able to retain everything that was said at the conference,” Zatechka said. “With this app, the conference presenter can distribute information to attendees automatically, which can be stored efficiently on their phones or tablets.
“It takes away the need to keep up with any kind of physical piece of paper or pamphlet, and it becomes easier to access information from the conference.”
Other MC Business students scheduled to participate in the NextUp competition include Hannah Grace Plunkett, Kimberly Hardy, Schuyler Hickman, Thomas Wilson, and Alondra Reyes.
Zatechka said the forum provides a valuable opportunity for these students to interact with their colleagues from other universities and discover potential business trends for the future.
“It will be interesting to see what is out there, to see what people are thinking and creating with their business ventures,” Zatechka said. “Taking an idea applicable to what we do in class and making it a successful venture takes a lot of hard work. The students who participate have a lot to offer in today’s entrepreneurial world.”
Brandon said MC Business through the J.L. Holloway Entrepreneurship Center harnesses that talent and expands students’ business acumen while sharpening their entrepreneurial skills.
“The Entrepreneurship Program in the School of Business offers a major in entrepreneurship, a minor in entrepreneurship for business majors, and a minor in entrepreneurship for non-business majors,” said Brandon, who teaches Introduction to Entrepreneurship, New Venture Creation, and Business Skills for Life. “But it’s not just for students in the business school - it’s for students who are interested in almost any career.
“If you’re studying electrical engineering and thinking of opening a business one day, you would be welcome in the program. If you’re a musician who might be interested in starting a business, you’re welcome here. If you’re in some other career, but think you could benefit from a side business, you’re welcome.
“Whether you’re interested in technology or in some of the more common things people buy and use every day, you’re welcome.”
Think Tank, governed and run exclusively by students, has a similar aim.
“The whole purpose of the club is to expand across the business school, but also to focus on attracting people who have an entrepreneurial mindset,” Zatechka said. “We’d like for them to participate in club activities and get exposed to business people in their field.”
Along with its participation in the Entrepreneurship Forum, Think Tank offers a variety of opportunities for members to develop their entrepreneurial chops.
Through the sponsorship of the J.L. Holloway Center, Think Tank leaders are planning their own entrepreneurial event this spring. Members of the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, Main Street Clinton, Regions Bank, and local residents will visit MC to offer their advice to students interested in learning more about the local business climate. They will focus on the close ties the Christian University has to the town of Clinton.
Think Tank members are also heavily involved in social clubs and tribes, MC board events, Scouts, the Yearbook Committee, and Residence Life.
“Members of Think Tank are much more likely to do activities that build their competitiveness in the economy,” Benson said. “That comes in all forms, whether in jobs, internships, or service commitments to the community.
“I believe everyone can benefit from Think Tank. People not in the School of Business might get their first experience with the idea of turning their skill, hobby, or major into a profitable enterprise. We in the club cannot think of a single major at Mississippi College - or universities in general - that would not benefit from learning about starting or operating a business. Anyone who wants to be involved is invited and encouraged.”
Community support for MC School of Business and Think Tank activities is always welcome. For more information, email Brandon at firstname.lastname@example.org.