Mississippi College Business Students Are NextUP! for Entrepreneurial Pitch Competition
Budding entrepreneurs in the School of Business at Mississippi College are refining their business acumen while developing what could become the next great commercial startup idea by competing in the NextUP! Student Pitch Competition in Hattiesburg April 13.
Everest Benson, a senior business entrepreneur major from Ann Arbor, Michigan, serves as president of “Think Tank,” an independent student entrepreneurial club at MC that inspires the next generation of business innovators in the state. During the competition, Benson will present a business plan he developed with his friend, Brock Kelly, for “Brews,” a locally owned coffee shop to be located on the historic brick streets of Olde Towne Clinton.
Schuyler Hickman, a senior entrepreneurship major from Dyersburg, Tennessee, and immediate past president of Think Tank, received an award at last spring’s event for his invention centered around farming implements. This year, he will present plans for a versatile indoor sports station for small children that is easy to maintain and eliminates clutter.
Benson and Hickman will square off against aspiring entrepreneurs from Mississippi’s other four-year colleges and universities in a fast-paced, “Shark Tank”-style business environment, part of the eighth annual Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum. 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 ultra-competitive business market.
While they may win cash awards that could help advance their ideas to the creation stage, the MC students participating in the competition will receive something even more valuable: critiques, suggestions, and interactions with business owners, resource providers, and other commercial leaders from across the state.
“The NextUP! Competition is a great opportunity for student entrepreneurs from our Mississippi colleges, community colleges, and universities to come together, pitch their businesses, and compete statewide for prizes,” said Tasha Bibb, coordinator of the competition and senior program manager in the Office of Technology Management at Mississippi State University. “We hope that students use this as an opportunity to meet other student entrepreneurs and establish relationships with statewide mentors in addition to the mentorship they receive on their campuses.”
Attendees learn about successful case studies and the resources and strategies available to entrepreneurs from institutions of higher learning and other key organizations. The forum also provides working opportunities for aspiring business owners and thriving entrepreneurs to share practical information about building a business.
John Brandon, director of MC’s entrepreneurship program in the School of Business, said the forum attracts entrepreneurs, economic developers, innovators, and future business owners.
“Interested universities across our state, as well as the Mississippi Development Authority – our state’s economic development arm of government – and the Mississippi Technology Alliance have thought it important to offer students in entrepreneurship in Mississippi with opportunities to collaborate on ideas that students have to create new and exciting projects to bring to the marketplace,” Brandon said. “The NextUP! Student Pitch Competition helps our students at Mississippi College be able to compete with their peers throughout the state and highlight how innovation and creativity join forces to put new business ideas before the public.”
Albert Nylander, director of the Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement at the University of Mississippi that coordinated the event, said the Mississippi Entrepreneurial Forum connects universities and colleges to community and business partners to raise awareness of the various entrepreneurial initiatives underway in the state.
“This is also a time for university faculty, staff, and students working in the entrepreneurial space to network and share ideas for growing and sustaining economic development within Mississippi,” he said.
Benson said he has connected with guest speakers and judges at the competition and has learned how to improve his presentation skills.
“(The competition) is beneficial because we are able to see what people from across the state are designing as their businesses,” Benson said. “It also leads to good connections with students from other campuses interested in entrepreneurship.”
Hickman said the MC School of Business faculty support student participation in the forum.
“Leading up to the event, the professors are constantly helping us fine-tune our presentations by eliminating the fat and helping us build on our strong points,” Hickman said. “They also make us do trial presentations several times so that we can get comfortable speaking in front of other people and make sure that we know our presentation front to back.
“The event is fun because it appeals to my competitive side. I don’t want to just present my product; I want to compete and try to win because it allows me to practice for the future and ensure that my product is worth something. It is a great experience pitching products for the future.”
The 2023 Mississippi Entrepreneurship Forum is part of the Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Initiative, funded through a grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. Coordinated by the University of Mississippi’s Grisham-McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement, the event educates participants on the entrepreneurial climate and the future of entrepreneurship in Mississippi.
The institute receives planning support from a team that includes members from all Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning schools, private colleges and universities, and key statewide organizations.
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