Next Big Idea coming from midstate college students

pramati@macon.comApril 4, 2014 

Hey, what’s the big idea?

It’s a question that the College Hill Alliance has brought to six area colleges as part of the Next Big Idea contest, designed to encourage students to become entrepreneurs.

Two teams each from the six colleges -- Mercer University, Georgia College & State University, Fort Valley State University, Wesleyan College, Middle Georgia State College and Central Georgia Technical College -- will make presentations Saturday to judges. They will be vying for the top prize of $10,000, which will be used as seed money for their proposed business.

“All of (the colleges) had their representatives design the contest,” said Nadia Osman, director of Revitalization & Business Initiatives for the College Hill Alliance. “We put out an open call to students to submit a complete business plan and a two-minute video. The schools narrowed their representatives to two teams each.”

Osman said teams could be a single individual or up to seven members. There was no limit on what the business idea could be.

The teams are being judged by the risk, the capacity to implement the idea, strategy and community impact.

“We hope a business comes out of this,” she said. “It’s designed to encourage students to become entrepreneurs. This is (an opportunity) to fail safely. ... If it goes under, at least they tried. Entrepreneurs often have to try many times.”

Osman said some of the ideas include a karaoke lounge, sound equipment for pop-up concerts, a technical support business and a grocery store.

Susan Gilbert, dean of Mercer’s Eugene Stetson School of Business & Economics, coordinated the contest among the colleges.

She said the contest provides a valuable lesson for students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the real world.

“With the schools (participating), that’s 23,000 students,” she said. “We hope they become entrepreneurs and stay in Middle Georgia.”

Gilbert said she coached two of the Mercer teams and that the competition has already opened some opportunities for the students. Besides the prize money -- the second- and third-place teams will win $3,000 and $2,000, respectively -- Gilbert said the alliance also will help the winners with contacts, searching for a suitable office location and other aspects to help start a business.

All of the teams will have one-on-one meetings with the judges in the morning, with the entrants pared down to four teams. From 1-3 p.m., the teams will pitch the judging panels during 10-minute presentations, much like the ABC show “Shark Tank,” at the Mercer Science and Engineering building. The finals are free and open to the public.

The Next Big Idea contest is on par with 250 business plan competitions across the U.S., Gilbert said.

“This one is unique because it focuses on a specific economic region and has the collaboration of the six schools,” she said. “(The winners) have to have a business plan with the serious intent to start a business and have a benefit to the region.”

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