Students interested in entrepreneurship can present their startup ideas in two business case competitions — the Bison Pitch Competition at Harding and the statewide Arkansas Governor’s Cup, both of which are open to all majors.
The Bison Pitch Competition will be on Oct. 27 and sign-ups for submitting business proposal outlines for the Governor’s Cup begin on Jan. 3.
The first of these competitions, the Bison Pitch Competition, is inspired by Shark Tank and involves giving a two-to-five-minute pitch of a startup to a panel of judges. This event provides a warm-up to the Governor’s Cup, where students give a 15-minute presentation.
Jon Wood, assistant professor of business administration and director of the Waldron Center for Entrepreneurship and Family Business, said participating in both competitions provides helpful practice. He said the Pitch Competition prepares students for the Governor’s Cup and gives them a chance to share their ideas in a smaller, lower-pressure event.
“Just like anything, the more practice you get, the better you’ll be at it,” Wood said. “Especially if you’re going to get into the Governor’s Cup, that practice of people asking you questions and getting used to it because they’re going to challenge, ‘Why do you think this? Why do you think that?’”
Students can compete individually in the Governor’s Cup or form a team of up to six. The competition has two undergraduate divisions — high growth/technology and small business/lifestyle — and a high growth/technology division for graduate students. After students submit their business cases online, the judges choose six finalists from each category to present their idea in person. First, second and third place winners in each division are awarded a cash prize.
Wood said the last four years, Harding has had the second-best team in the growth area. He said though students are often intimidated by the statewide nature of the Governor’s Cup, some of the best participants every year come from Harding.
“The students at Harding are really high-quality students,” Wood said. “We have a reputation for being good, and the professors really will help you if you seek help. So there’s no reason to be intimidated.”
One of these successful Harding students, alumnus Adria Abella, has patented and created a business from his 2019 Governor’s Cup project, the h-Drop. His invention tracks hydration levels through a wearable device that connects to a mobile app. Abella said the Governor’s Cup gives students good experience with creating a business plan, though the judging panel’s decision doesn’t reflect whether a business will succeed.
“I think no matter the results you get out of Governor’s Cup, you could still have a business that could potentially succeed over time,” Abella said. “No matter how good your solution is and how many people you could potentially help, [the judges] may decide that it’s not the best choice … But it’s also a good experience to just get in front of people and then just pitch your idea and try to explain it.”
Senior Kenny Kinch, who participated in the 2022 Governor’s Cup and plans to participate in both the Bison Pitch Competition and the 2023 Governor’s Cup, said the Governor’s Cup was a life-changing experience.
“It really opened my eyes,” Kinch said. “I’m an international student from Panama, so I’m not that familiar with how business is done here. … Doing the Governor’s Cup, for somebody that comes from a different major, is really one of the best ways to get in touch with how business is done here in the U.S., how entrepreneurship works, how teams work and all of that, how real life actually works. So it did teach me a lot more than any of my classes that I have taken.”
Wood also noted the extracurricular learning these competitions provide. He said whether students win or lose, they gain invaluable experience due to becoming familiar with research, asking questions and making presentations, setting them apart when they look for jobs.
“What happens is that you say, ‘We didn’t win, but you know what … I learned about all these different things I have to consider,’” Wood said. “That’s really good experience because you actually have to try to talk to people and get their honest feedback. It’s really more important what you learn and how. This will help you separate yourself from some others when you go to look for a job.”