by Professor Martial Trigeaud
Since 2001, the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group, through its 501(c)(3) Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation (AEAF), has challenged college students to bring entrepreneurial ideas and talents to life through the Arkansas Governor’s Cup. The $154,000 cash prize pool generously provided by Delta Plastics makes this competition one of the most prestigious in the country.
Those who are interested in becoming involved in the Governor’s Cup can do so as either a student mentee, competition judge, or team mentor. Participating in the Governor’s Cup in any one of these capacities can be a rewarding experience. Here are some things you will need to know if you are looking to get involved:
Graduate and undergraduate students from all over the state can compete in the Governor’s Cup as mentees under the supervision of a seasoned business-planning mentor. The student teams are first required to create and submit a business plan for a unique service or innovative product. If a business plan makes it to the finals, the submitting team then presents a 15-minute business pitch to a panel of seasoned judges with hopes of selling them on the product or service and being named the Governor’s Cup champions.
Participating in the Governor’s Cup provides mentees with high quality, educational experience that emulates the processes and challenges faced by entrepreneurs on their way to developing successful businesses. While learning from team mentors and other business professionals throughout the competition process, mentees simultaneously put their knowledge and skills to the test in a real and challenging business environment. Noah Asher, a current Governor’s Cup Mentee on UA Little Rock’s Vascuienix Team, describes the Governor’s Cup as a “Unique experience that stretches your knowledge and challenges you in ways that conventional classroom teaching simply cannot.”
Judges for the Governor’s Cup must be able to critically assess the quality of business plans and presentations and follow-up with constructive feedback. In the first round of competition, judges individually grade business plans and then come back together in order to decide upon an appropriate overall score for teams. Judges then follow this same grading process in the finals during their assessment of team business plan presentations.
Judges get to learn about innovative products and services while helping budding entrepreneurs understand what it takes to stand out in a highly competitive market. In regards to her experience as a judge for the Governor’s Cup, Rebecca Norman, a consultant at the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, had this to say:
“For the past three years, I’ve served as a volunteer judge for the Governor’s Cup competition during the preliminary round. As a judge, I’ve had the unique opportunity to learn about the exciting new ideas our state’s university-level students have for starting new ventures. I’m able to support these teams by providing targeted feedback on their business plans that they can use to make them more competitive. It’s wonderful to see the winning teams honored during the Awards luncheon!”
Mentors for the Governor’s Cup need to have a strong understanding of the business planning process and of the Governor’s Cup rules, expectations, and deadlines. They also need to have a passion for teaching others and a willingness to dedicate a significant amount of time to helping their mentees overcome obstacles that will inevitably arise throughout the competition process.
Coaching a Governor’s Cup team as a mentor is a unique and rewarding experience. One day you may see your team full of energy and knocking out section after section of their business plan ahead of upcoming deadlines, and another day you may be sharing every motivational anecdote you know to raise your team members’ spirits and keep them from bowing out of the competition. Mentors have to support their teams through these ups and downs, helping them to learn and grow both personally and professionally from their experiences and encouraging them to muster up the strength, courage, and perseverance necessary to finish their work.
Steve Rice, the Director of Entrepreneurship for the Arkansas School of Arts Math and Sciences and a Governor’s Cup mentor, believes that the competition is an integral part of his students’ educational experiences and his growth as an educator:
“The Governor’s Cup competition stretches my students to think in a way they haven’t necessarily thought before, and it forces them to develop skills they have definitely not deployed before. It is one of the reasons I became so passionate about our students participating. This process has stretched me as an educator as well. In that regard, it has been invaluable to both my students and me.”
The 2019 Arkansas Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition is being managed by Marie Bruno, Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation at Arkansas Capital Corporation. This year’s competition includes 2750 mentees, a minimum of 60 volunteer judges and 882 mentors.
Martial Trigeaud is an ASBTDC business consultant, providing management advice and financial planning to current and future small business owners and also assists technology-based entrepreneurs. Trigeaud has a first master’s degree in engineering from School of Engineering CESI France and earned a second master’s degree in business administration at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He is an adjunct professor at UALR.