It’s Just Business: UWT business plan competition reaches out to veterans

The Veterans Incubator for Better Entrepreneurship (VIBE) at University of Washington-Tacoma has launched its first ever business plan competition. With the goal to create future business leaders in Pierce County, and Tacoma in particular, the competition is open to all colleges and universities in the South Sound and members of the broader community as well.  The winning team will receive in-kind services from businesses in the area and a cash prize that can be used as seed money for their entrepreneurial project.

VIBE Director Thomas Kuljam said that this competition is in keeping with his efforts to help create “an epicenter of entrepreneurial culture” in the South Sound and to help people think outside the box when it comes to doing something with their time and talents that satisfies their soul as much as their bottom line.

“I want people to realize, especially veterans, that they have talent and can create something bigger for themselves,” Kuljam said. “Just because you went to trade school doesn’t mean you have to work in that trade – you can still get more education and learn to understand the language of business to create and retain jobs in the Tacoma/Pierce County/South Sound areas.”
Kuljam is frustrated that local talent commutes to Seattle during the work week and he’s out to change that. “Everybody says there is no talent in Tacoma and I have to argue that. If there’s no talent in Tacoma, then why do we have traffic jams? Because everyone is taking their talents to Seattle.” Through the VIBE business plan competition, Kuljam is doing his part to bring better opportunities to Tacoma and the South Sound both for entrepreneurs and the folks that entrepreneurs need to run their businesses.

Here is how the competition will work: Every team must have a student and a veteran (one person can fill both of these roles) and there is no limit to how many people can be on the team. Kuljam, himself a military veteran with many additional years of experience in the banking industry, said putting students and vets together is intentional. “The beauty of what I’m trying to do is slowly transition the veterans and students together. Once they get out into the real world, a veteran might be working for a civilian and a student might be working for a veterans, so we want to make sure they’re ready for this.”

The deadline to enter the competition is March 24, as it is on this day that executive summaries are due via online submission. This will launch the Screening Round, the first round in the four-round competition. Over the course of a weekend, each business plan executive summary will be read and scored by judges who will be encouraged to provide written feedback for students. After this Screening Round, teams advancing to the Investment Round will be announced.

The Investment Round on April 14 will be the most exciting event of the competition, as it will follow a tradeshow format in which teams set up intricate displays and interact with judges to pitch the team’s idea. The judges, all prominent members of the local entrepreneurial community, will be given 1,000 “VIBE dollars” to invest in a portfolio of teams that they consider have the best chance for success in the real world. At the end of the event, investment dollars will be collected and tallied. The teams receiving the highest “funding” will be announced at a reception immediately following and advance to the final round.

Next comes the Coaching Round on April 28, a noncompetitive round in which no teams will be eliminated. This round gives teams the opportunity to practice their presentations in front of a panel of coaches from the local entrepreneurial community. This round is designed to provide teams with in-depth and constructive feedback that they can use to hone their business plans and pitches prior to the Final Round. Teams will be assigned a mentor for one-on-one coaching.
The Final round on May 5 will have all remaining teams present throughout the day for 10-minute formal pitches and Q&A with judges that will select the advancing teams based on criteria including team dynamics, whether the business model is viable and whether the team made a quality presentation. After all presentations are finished, judges will discuss the merits of each of the teams and by process of consensus select the winning team and the runner up to be presented in the afternoon.

For the full contest calendar and more details on each round, visit