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Spotlight: Making It to the Top

Kim Dishongh
Written by Kim Dishongh

April/May 2016 Issue

The 2016 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup allows
college and graduate students from across the state
to present their business plans for competition.

Thirty-seven teams from 11 universities — a total of 122 students — are vying for a part of the $154,000 prize pool for the business plans and presentations they have crafted for the 2016 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup.

“We had a good mix last year, like we always do,” said Sam Walls, president and chief operating officer of Arkansas Capital Corp., which created the competition. “This is kind of cliché but every year we have such a strong group of students that come out. The students just really have a good grasp of what makes a good business plan, really just how they look at the world and come up with amazing ideas.”

Last year, 47 teams competed for pieces of a $152,000 prize fund. The competition’s prize pool, funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, is among the largest of its kind in the nation.

Sam Walls, president and chief operating officer of Arkansas Capital Corp.

Sam Walls, president and chief operating officer of Arkansas Capital Corp. | photo by Cindy Momchilov

“I love to see that creative spark, the genesis being from students themselves,” Walls said. “But, there’s a lot of research out there that the next step hasn’t been taken to figure out how to commercialize it and that’s a great thing to see, too, how you can take that out into the world and make money with it.”

First prizes of $25,000 each are awarded for the top undergraduate and graduate teams; second prizes in those categories bring $15,000; and third prize awards are $10,000. There are also awards for the students’ advisers and other individual awards.

Walls will notify this year’s winners on April 11. Winners will be announced at a luncheon on April 19 at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock, where movers and shakers in Arkansas business will also watch and text their votes for representatives from each entering team in a 90-second elevator pitch contest.

“There are people who constantly tell me that this is their favorite lunch meeting to go to because they just really enjoy hearing from the students,” said Walls. “The setup for an elevator pitch is if you’re in an elevator with Warren Buffet for 90 seconds, what are you going to say to him to make him want to talk to you more? You certainly can’t get your whole idea out. Or, in Arkansas, our example is Warren Stephens. If you’ve got his undivided attention for 90 seconds, how do you convince him he wants to know more about your deal and that’s it? The buzzer goes off and the audience votes.”

Erin Morningstar represented John Brown University in Siloam Springs as part of the Charlie’s Choice team in last year’s competition. Charlie’s Choice placed second and went on, like other first and second place winners, to compete in the Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Championship in Las Vegas.

College students from any program of study may enter the competition. The money is an incentive for the effort of creating detailed business plans, which judges evaluate based on the merits of their operating strategies, financial projections and feasibility. The real-life experience and feedback from the judges is also a draw.

Spotlight-infographic

Morningstar estimated that she spent 15 to 30 hours each week between the start of the fall semester and the competition in the spring on her team’s business plan and the elevator pitch. The team’s idea came from a colleague, who teaches at JBU.

Morningstar’s adviser, Eva Fast, won the C. Sam Walls Entrepreneur Educator Award last year, an award for educators who listened, coached and cheered on student teams. That award carried $2,500, as well as $2,500 for JBU.

Fast, an assistant professor of business in the Soderquist College of Business at JBU, said developing teams to compete in the Governor’s Cup is a strategic part of what the college does.

“It’s part of our capstone experience so all of our business students take a course called Strategic Management in the fall of their senior year and, in the spring, they have an opportunity to submit their project — which is their business plan — to the Reynolds Cup,” she said.

“The competition just happens to align with the skills set that we value our graduates having. The strategic business course is designed to stretch our students and pull everything they have been learning for the last three years of their college undergrad career into one project and so the premise of the class is to develop a viable business plan that is worthy of potential investment potential.”

Arkansas Capital Corp.’s reason for starting the competition was practical.

“Arkansas Capital has been doing lending since the late 1950s, but we were having people come in with great ideas but they weren’t prepared — how much to borrow, how are you going to pay us back, who’s your management, and all of that,” said Marie Bruno, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, an ACC affiliate. “So we decided to create this foundation to do entrepreneurial education and what better way than to do a business plan competition. So it’s really good, and we’re really proud and honored to be able to do it.”

Walls is proud that ACC has played such a role in elevating the conversation about entrepreneurialism in Arkansas.

“For students it was a mechanism, particularly with the large awards event which is somewhat unique as far as business plan competitions go … it was the idea not just that entrepreneurialism is important but that, hey, you can be successful in Arkansas and that Arkansas has this great entrepreneurial history. You flash forward 15 years, and I think that message is out there, I think, very well, but we think there is value in continuing to beat the drum.”


2016 Governor’s Cup Finalists

Overall Undergraduate Division Semi-Finalists

  • AGcorp, Ouachita Baptist University
  • BladeTech, Harding University
  • Dibs Dates, John Brown University
  • Drone Surveying Solutions, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • EcoForYou, Hendrix College
  • FindMyWine, John Brown University
  • Natural State Bedding Co., John Brown University
  • PubHub, University of Arkansas
  • Short-Bow, University of Central Arkansas
  • Sit ‘N Go, Harding University
  • Sobek, John Brown University
  • The Helping Hand, Harding University

Overall Graduate Division Finalists

  • Actio Systems, University of Arkansas
  • deciLvl, University of Arkansas
  • Demetrix, Hendrix College
  • NuPhase Solutions, University of Arkansas
  • NuShores Bone Regeneration, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • VivImmune, University of Arkansas

Agriculture Division Finalists

  • AGcorp, Ouachita Baptist University
  • Beyond Critical, Arkansas State University
  • deciLvl, University of Arkansas
  • Demetrix, Hendrix College
  • Drone Surveying Solutions, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • EcoForYou, Hendrix College
  • Natural State Bedding Co., John Brown University

Innovation Division Finalists – Undergraduate

  • Beyond Critical, Arkansas State University
  • Natural State Bedding Co., John Brown University
  • VIR Technologies, Arkansas Tech University

Innovation Division Finalists – Graduate

  • deciLvl, University of Arkansas
  • NuShores Bone Regeneration, University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • VivImmune, University of Arkansas

About the author

Kim Dishongh

Kim Dishongh

Kimberly Dishongh is a writer/reporter whose work has appeared in several Arkansas publications as well as in Newsweek, USA Today and others.

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