LOOKING FOR ‘BIG IDEAS’: West Chester University’s annual Business Idea Competition seeks participants for event’s 9th year

WEST CHESTER — West Chester University’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Center is once again looking for “big ideas” for the 2021 Business Idea Competition.

Growing an idea into a full-fledged business takes time, preparation and resources. For the past nine years, West Chester University has hosted its Business Idea Competition to give entrepreneurs a chance to get share their ideas.

Sponsored by the Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center, the Keiretsu Forum Mid-Atlantic and The Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce, the WCU Business Idea Competition promotes creativity and idea generation by recognizing innovative ideas for new products, services, and technology.

“This competition is a way to take an idea and put it out there in the marketplace to see if it has traction,” said Patricia Diggin, director, Cottrell Entrepreneurial Leadership Center. She added that entrepreneurs need to think about how long it takes to go from idea to reality — “not to dampen anyone’s dreams but to understand it is a process.”

The competition, she said, is a “first step.”

This year’s competition includes $11,500 in prize money — and the opportunity for participants to have their ideas heard by business people and potential investors, according to Diggin.

Entrepreneurs will compete in four areas:

  • Chester County High School Students
  • West Chester University Undergraduates
  • West Chester University Graduate students, Alumni, Faculty and Staff
  • Chester County-based Startups

The process starts with participants in each category submitting an online application. This year’s deadline has been extended by a week, according to Diggin, with applications now due by Sunday, Feb. 28 by 11:59 p.m.

She said the virtual platform the competition now uses allows for some flexibility, adding that the organizers want to encourage as many participants as possible. For information and to apply visit www.wcubizideas.com

The application asks each individual or team applicant to explain the product, service or technology that can be used as the foundation for a new business — focusing on description, uniqueness, and target market. Each applicant will answer five questions — to be answered in 500 characters or less.

The applications will then be reviewed by business angels, entrepreneurs, and business advisors. The top four ideas in each track will participate in a “Fast Pitch” Competition on March 25. Each team or competitor will have two minutes to “pitch” their idea to a panel of judges.

The scores from the “Fast Pitch” round will be combined with the results of the first round of judging to determine which individuals or teams in each track move on to participate in the Business Idea Pitch on April 14.

The top two competitors in each track move on to the final round, where they will present their ideas to a panel of judges and the public. In that final round, competitors will focus on a description of their idea, the uniqueness of the idea and the market for the product, service or technology.

The final competition is open to the public, but registration is required. To register visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/9th-annual-business-idea-pitch-tickets-142026413827

Diggin said it is critical for entrepreneurs to be able to speak about their ideas — from all angles.

“Everyone sees ‘Shark Tank’ and thinks ‘that’s not so tough’ – but it is tough. Those things about valuation, revenue stream and exit strategy — are all things entrepreneurs need to think about,” she said.

The pandemic impacted last year’s Business Idea Competition, Diggin said, striking just after the initial applications were due. The competition was held virtually, and presentations were prerecorded. Diggin said the finals were pushed to September — organizers hoped the situation would ease and an in-person competition final could be held.

For this year’s event, Diggin said they made the decision early in the planning to hold the event virtually, and get the competition back on schedule.

She acknowledged the pandemic is impacting the submission of applications for this year’s competition, and she expects the final numbers will be below previous years.

Diggin said while the virtual space has positives and negatives — one of the negatives as it relates to this competition is “burnout” — especially for the high school and college students.

“They are doing most of their work virtually,” she said, adding that it’s difficult for them to take that extra step and take on another activity.

Nonetheless, she said applications are coming in.

“It’s not about quantity it’s about quality,” she said.

Next year, Diggin said they are looking to add a new competition —

specifically dedicated to social entrepreneurship. Ideas would have a social application.

“This past year has put a focus on it. We have seen a need for this developing over the last couple of years and have seen acceleration due to COVID,” she said.

According to the rules, ideas that have not yet been commercialized and that can be used as the foundation of a new business are eligible for the competition. Entrants can participate singly or as a team with up to four members, and participants can submit multiple ideas.

For information about the Ninth Annual West Chester University Business Idea Competition or to register, visit http://www.wcubizideas.com/. Email questions to the Cottrell Center team at cottrellcenter@wcupa.edu

The Dr. Edwin Cottrell Entrepreneurship Center fosters entrepreneurship across West Chester University and throughout Chester County by preparing students to contribute to the entrepreneurship ecosystem, providing access to resources and enhancing the startup and growth of new ventures.

On Thursday, Feb. 25, from 8 to 10 a.m., the center will host an Angel Venture Fair Workshop. Attendees will learn how to prepare a company for investment and how to craft the perfect pitch. They will also hear how to prepare for the annual Angel Venture Fair scheduled for June 2021, which brings together the largest gathering of Angel investors and entrepreneurs in the Mid-Atlantic region. The virtual meeting is free to attend. To register, visit https://angelventurefair.ticketleap.com/angel-venture-fair-workshop/

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