The word is out. Interest in student entrepreneurship has never been so high. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, nearly two-thirds of college students intend to become entrepreneurs at some point in their careers.
The rising popularity in student entrepreneurship helps explain the record crowd at the recent Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) national conference in Chicago. The conference featured 1,400 students, college faculty and speakers representing more than 100 schools nationwide. The students came to compete for awards, network with peers and hear advice from successful entrepreneurs.
"I wanted to go [to the conference] to represent my school," said Jonathan Marney, a student at Rollins University who served as a panelist in a workshop on how to start a company to help support your local CEO chapter. "I also went to meet other entrepreneurs and immerse myself in that environment."
The conference offered how-to-do-it workshops, arts and technology oriented entrepreneurship sessions and CEO campus chapter development training. The workshops covered a broad number of topic including presentations titled "Intellectual Property Basics," "Social Entrepreneurship," "Ask an Entrepreneur Anything" and "Financing: Angels and Venture Capitalists."
The organization also inducted several new members into their Entrepreneur Hall of Fame including Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot Corp., and infomercial creator Kevin Harrington, who has produced more than 500 infomercials with sales surpassing $3 billion.
"CEO is now evolving beyond the start-up phase to offering consistent benefits to a solid membership core at 134 universities – and growth is continuing!" said Gerry Hills, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and co-founder of the CEO program.
The Elevator Pitch
One of the conference highlights was the annual Elevator Pitch Competition. Students were given 90 seconds to present a new venture and convince an imaginary businessperson to invest in their company. Ninety seconds represents the time you’d have to share a long elevator ride with that potential investor. The event has quickly become a student favorite since its creation in 2003.
"The outstanding speakers continue to be exciting and motivational – but the new elevator pitch competition has added a new level of student member involvement," said Hills.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Jordan Clancy won the event and earned $2,500 by presenting his business idea for a multi-university student union in Daytona Beach. Clancy says that the opportunity to network with peers and compete in the elevator pitch were his primary reasons for attending the conference. "The excitement of the elevator pitch" was what brought him back for the second consecutive year.
"It is hands down the most looked-forward to event for a young entrepreneur," said Clancy. "It’s exciting to make a pitch in 90 seconds. It’s the challenge of condensing a business idea and presenting it to a live audience."
Business Leaders Offer Advice
A regular hallmark of the CEO conference has been the keynote addresses by noted entrepreneurs who share their real life business experiences. This year’s speaker list boasted names such as Bary Potakin, founder of Gold Coast Dogs. Potakin made and lost a fortune as a commodities trader, only to later regain it by starting an award winning hot dog restaurant chain.
Potakin advised students to take chances in order to separate themselves from their competition. He recalled how he would often take taxi rides around Chicago just to promote his business to cab drivers. Potakin handed them discount coupons for his restaurant along with a tip knowing that the cabbies would probably spread the word to their passengers and to other cab drivers.
"The first rule of war is audacity," said Potakin. "The world belongs to the bold."
Serial entrepreneur and author Barry Moltz told an audience that it’s often not the business idea itself that makes an entrepreneur successful but rather the execution of the idea. He also shared his keys to achieving business success.
"There are two things that every young entrepreneur needs to succeed besides hard work," said Moltz. "Number one is luck. Number two is timing."
Does your school have a CEO chapter? Check out www.c-e-o.org to find out more about membership.
2006 CEO First Place Awards
Matt Wilson, Bryant University
Elevator Pitch Competition
Jordan Clancy, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
P.K. Shukla, Chapman University
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