What’s the big idea? Canyon Challenge first deadline approaches
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
One of the early translations of the French word entrepreneur was adventurer, and that pretty much sums up what the Canyon Challenge is all about.
Any Grand Canyon University student, prospective student or employee can venture into the fourth annual competition, which awards $7,000 to the entrant who, in the eyes of a panel of judges, best exhibits a business plan that is solid and scalable. The runner-up gets $2,000, and there’s a $1,000 prize for third place.
The five finalists will make their oral presentations to judges on March 24 in the Arena, but the event’s first deadline — for a two-page executive summary — is Jan. 31. The 10 finalists will be announced on Feb. 9, their business plans will be due on Feb. 22 and the field will be cut to five on March 9.
To find out more about the Canyon Challenge and enter the competition, click here.
The criteria for each entry are simple: It must be for-profit, and new startup ideas are preferred, but ideas from previous years can be resubmitted if they represent a significant innovation in a previously presented entity.
“In geek terms, we would say that they have a significant pivot, that they have moved to a different market segment or a completely different way in which to serve the old market segment,” said Tim Kelley, assistant professor for entrepreneurship and economics in the Colangelo College of Business.
Nonprofits are not allowed in the competition because of the difficulty of comparing them to for-profit models.
“When judges have to evaluate its viability, it gets difficult when you have, perhaps, a mission-focused nonprofit that depends on donations for its viability and compare that to a business that wants to create a new product and has to sell that product and build a customer base and serve those customers,” Kelley said. “It’s a very different mindset for the judges to look at and actually compare and score.”
Kelley added that engineering students in GCU’s newly expanded program are strongly encouraged to enter, but “it doesn’t have to be technology. It could be other forms of business. But we do want it to incorporate scalability. It’s got to be a vision to be something larger. We don’t want a mom-and-pop shop.”
Prospective Canyon Challenge entrants have gotten a chance to polish their presentations in the new “GCU Shark Tank,” which is like a practice session for the Canyon Challenge. Entrants are encouraged to get on the presentation list for the next Shark Tank session on Jan. 22.
Joshua Rash, vice president of GCU’s IDEA Club (Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Association), noticed a drastic improvement in presentations from the first Shark Tank of the semester to the second one a month later.
“They’ve gotten a lot better at getting their point across,” Rash said. “When they first step up there, they’re still in that mindset where they feel the need to explain every single detail. When you’re pitching a business, the people you’re pitching it to already know what’s going on, so you can kind of eliminate the need to explain jargon. They cut out a lot of the fat that they didn’t need to talk about.”
IDEA President Lemmy Gitahi, who finished third in the Canyon Challenge last spring, said, “It’s a form of incubation, and they’re more specific to the target they need to achieve. They’re going straight to the point and illustrating everything for any investor of any kind to easily understand and get on the same page.”
Entrants are urged to identify and calculate the size of their target market. No business should try to target the entire population, and Kelley emphasized that even a niche product can be marketed to a group of people that is larger than you might think.
Students from all colleges are encouraged to enter. The winners last spring were three nursing students, Rebecca McLarkey, Anna Bright and Tonya Smith, who created an entrepreneurial website called iStudentNurse.com.
Entrants can prototype their ideas at the IDEA Lab, in Building 6, Room 241. They also can practice their presentation by attending “Venture Friday” at the Seed Spot office in downtown Phoenix, but first must make a reservation by contacting Kelley at [email protected].
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected].