UNE launches first-ever entrepreneurship contest

According to a December 2014 report by the Maine Development Foundation, the Maine economy has a critical need for workers with “the innovative capacity and entrepreneurial skills to create new opportunities for themselves and others.” The report cites a study by the McKinsey Center for Government that states 72% of college and university leaders believe their graduates are prepared to enter the job market, while employers believe only 42% are actually adequately prepared.

As a potential remedy, the Maine Development Foundation recommended Maine’s colleges and universities collaborate more with industry to determine which skills students need to succeed in the rapidly changing economy.

Fortunately, the University of New England’s Department of Business has already been doing this type of work, bringing business leaders to campus, placing students in internship positions, and engaging students in meaningful service-learning experiences.  

Now, UNE is launching a new venture designed to nurture the entrepreneurial spirit of students and teach them the process of starting a business. UNE’s first-ever student entrepreneurship competition will take place throughout the current Spring 2015 semester. It will award as much as $10,000 in start-up funding to two winning entrants. 

Sponsored by the Partners in Business student club, the competition is designed to help students identify and develop ideas with the potential for commercialization or social impact. It offers for-profit and not-for-profit tracks.

The competition is open to all full- or part-time UNE undergraduate, graduate and online students, who may enter individually or in teams. Entrants need not have prior business knowledge or experience, only the motivation to develop their unique ideas.

All entrants will be paired with industry mentors, who will guide, advise, support and challenge them throughout the competition. In addition, entrants will have the opportunity to attend seminars designed to enhance their understanding of business planning and financing.

At the end of the competition, the winner of each track will be awarded $2,500 in start-up funding and provided continuing guidance from mentors. After working with mentors over the summer, the winners will be eligible for as much as $2,500 apiece in continued funding.

“Experiential learning is at the heart of the UNE Business degree program,” explained Beth Richardson, J.D., chair and associate professor of the UNE Department of Business. “A student-based entrepreneurship competition that combines innovative thinking, risk taking, supportive mentoring and education is the perfect complement to UNE’s experiential business education model.”

Modeled loosely after highly successful business entrepreneurship contests at other schools, the competition is the brainchild of Partners in Business club member Aidan McParland and faculty.  

“This competition is truly a unique opportunity,” said McParland, a UNE student trustee who is co-running the competition with fellow club member Shamus Higgenbottom. “Not only are ideas financially supported but, more importantly, students are given mentorship from world-class experts in their respective fields to help make their businesses successful. We crafted this program to stimulate an entrepreneurial spirit and innovative drive on campus, which also fosters interprofessional collaboration between students in diverse areas of study. Most excitingly, this opportunity allows you to become your own boss, where the only limitations are the ones you set for yourself.”

The deep pool of mentors with whom entrants will be paired draws from a roster of successful entrepreneurs that includes UNE trustees David L. Anderson, Ph.D., and Karin A. Gregory, J.D., M.P.H. Anderson serves as managing director of Supply Chain Ventures, a venture capital fund specializing in software investing. Gregory is a partner with Furman Gregory Deptula, which specializes in technology commercialization and startup financing.

Other mentors include: Alper Caglayan, Ph.D., founder and president of Milcord and former founder and CEO of Peoplestreet; Neal Workman, founder of the Fisheries Exchange, Seafax and GoFish.com; and Don Gooding, executive director of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development and vice chair of the Maine Angels investment group.    

To enter, visit une.edu/bizwhiz.