With deadline looming, student entrepreneurs prep for Canyon Challenge

January 31, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

By Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau

A veritable flood of business entrepreneurs is forecast today as the deadline approaches for the third annual Canyon Challenge, for which a final workshop was held Thursday on the Grand Canyon University campus.

Last year’s Challenge received nearly 80 student entries, and two-page executive summaries for this year’s event are due by midnight today. Although the website for GCU’s IDEA (Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Association) counted fewer than 20 entries Thursday night, Associate Professor Tim Kelley didn’t seem concerned.

Associate Professor Tim Kelley (foreground) listens as Mike Riley and Sherman XXXXX of SCORE speak to students preparing for the Canyon Challenge.

Associate Professor Tim Kelley (foreground) listens as Mike Riley and Marshall Stein of SCORE speak to students preparing for the Canyon Challenge.

“Does any student ever submit homework early?” Kelley asked rhetorically after about a dozen students had gathered to hear from two representatives of SCORE, a nationwide nonprofit organization that supports entrepreneurship by making retired business executives available as mentors.

Mike Riley, an expert on copyright law and veteran of several startups with six patents to his name, and Marshall Stein, an economist who ran a brokerage office in a second career, supplied an abundance of real-world insight in their visit. Both work out of the Phoenix office of SCORE (http://greaterphoenix.score.org).

They agreed that it’s not necessary to have a patent — which can take five years to secure and cost as much as $10,000 — to be successful. Having traction with a product is much more important in the eyes of investors.

“Traction means that you have sales momentum,” Riley said. “Financing becomes easier with traction.”

Kelley noted an old saying that “a patent is worth only as much as what you can afford to defend it,” and Stein said incorporation can be attained without either a trademark or a patent. In the absence of traction, surveys can be used to indicate demand for a product.

This year, the Challenge has attempted to sharpen the focus of entries by limiting proposals to a for-profit model and by introducing a Lean Canvas mapping strategy.

“The judges want to see a concrete, implementable idea that is scalable,” Kelley said. “They’ll be looking for ‘proof of concept.’”

In a little more than a week, a panel of 16 judges will reduce the field to 10 semifinalists, who will be required to submit full business plans by Feb. 21. From those, five finalists will be selected to make live presentations and compete for $10,000 in prize money on March 27 at First Southern Baptist Church, adjacent to campus.

“We want to pack the house,” Kelley said of the finals.

A distinguished panel of judges has been recruited by Kelley for the finals. They are Brian Mueller, GCU’s president and CEO; Dr. Ken Blanchard, the servant-leadership guru whose name is on the University’s business school; Alan Lobock, co-founder of SkyMall; Sheldon Harris, former president of the Cold Stone Creamery franchise; and restaurateur Lauren Bailey of Postino’s.

In the past four months alone, IDEA has grown from about 150 members to nearly 250, according to Kelley, who is optimistic that this year’s competition will reflect a greater overall sophistication. The winner of the first Challenge, the sports-memorabilia business The Fan Post, has made strides in licensing its product and bringing it to market. Last year’s winner, Error Tec, a health-care business, was invited to work with Tallwave, a local business accelerator.

Sophomore Lemmy Gitahi said market analysis has required the most attention for his fledgling business, an aerial cinematography venture that will showcase prime real estate for long- and short-term use. He is confident that he has done the necessary legwork.

“I’ve gone to potential clients to see what they think,” said Gitahi, a licensed pilot who has researched the aviation and real-estate industries. “There’s a market for this, and it’s worth going for.”

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].

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