“If I’m an investor, I’m looking for someone who is smart and motivated,” said George Simmons, a partner with Derby Management in Boston. “You have to show me that you know what the customer really wants.”
And winning over investors starts with an effective business plan. On Feb. 15, Simmons shared his insights with more than 80 would-be entrepreneurs during a workshop he taught for the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The workshop focused on producing an effective business plan. The 90-minute course was timed to benefit entrepreneurs interested in entering this year’s Rhode Island Business Plan Competition.
Contestants have until April 2 to enter the competition, which will award prizes worth more than $200,000 in May.
The competition is unique in that it is community-based and sponsored, maintaining an individual identity. It is supported by private businesses, colleges and universities, public entities and nonprofit organizations. It shares the same goals with the RI-CIE, to develop an entrepreneurial spirit in Rhode Island and help create or support growth companies that will increase local employment.
The competition has two levels of applicants; student and entrepreneur. Students must be in a graduate or undergraduate program in an accredited school. The entrepreneur category is open to anyone aged 18 or older. A special life sciences award will be given to applicants who propose to create a new life sciences business in Rhode Island with the potential to grow and create local jobs.
Workshop attendees ranged from students to established businesspeople, including some with little or no business experience.
Peter Lowy of Business Communication Strategies in Brookline, Mass., helps run the competition. “It’s interesting that this workshop draws a broad cross section of people and they are all very focused,” he said. “Similar workshops like this are held in cities throughout the Northeast and Canada, but they don’t draw as much as we do [in Providence].”
Lowy, however, says the number of workshop attendees doesn’t always match the number of contest applicants.
In both 2009 and 2010, the contest attracted 60 applicants. Last year that number increased to 103 contestants.
“It’s a learning experience that takes some time,” he said. “Some people will leave here and reassess where they stand and might not apply [for the competition] until next year. There is a gestation period involved in many of the applications we see,” Lowy said. “This course will open up a lot of eyes as to what [is] involved and some might not be prepared this year.”