Business grads participate in Indianapolis Motor Speedway competition

By Marc Spier
University News Service
March 21, 2007

Two recent graduates from Texas State University-San Marcos will be participating in the inaugural Nascent 500 Business Plan Challenge, an extremely elaborate exercise of entrepreneurial skills on March 23 in Speedway, Indiana, hometown to the Indianapolis 500.

Ball State University will host the event, giving entrepreneurs 500 seconds in a limousine as it circles the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to present their business idea to a panel of three judges from the Indianapolis business community.

The Texas State team will consist of Kristin Firle, from New Ulm, Minnesota, and Paul Sughrue, native of Austin. Both received undergraduate degrees in business management last year.

Firle and Sughrue were tight lipped about their idea, but did say it was an innovative approach to opening an organic coffee shop.

The two are former students in entrepreneurship courses at Texas State taught by James Bell, professor of management and entrepreneurship. Bell has consulted the students since spring of last year, after the pair finished first in their class and agreed to participate.

“Our team plans to use show and tell to sell the judges as to the strength of their business idea,” said Bell. “They plan to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and experience to execute the idea and earn funding to open their dream business.”

Ball State’s Entrepreneurship Center invited the top 12 qualifying teams from colleges across the nation for the competition. The winning team will receive $10,000, a quart of milk and a victory lap around the track. Second place will profit $5,000, third place $2,500 and fourth place $1,000.

Contestants must blend accounting, finance, marketing, management, economics, research and communication skills to demonstrate they can compete and be successful in the marketplace.

“Being an entrepreneur means jumping on opportunities no matter when or where they occur,” said Larry Cox, director of Ball State's Entrepreneurship Center. “Your shot to make your dream a reality may not come at a desk or over a large PowerPoint presentation. It could be a chance meeting in an elevator or in the back of a limo.”

Students from colleges and universities across the nation were asked to submit a business plan. Teams participating in the “limousine pitch round” include Texas State University, Ball State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Illinois State University, Loyola Marymount University, Purdue University, Taylor University, Texas Christian University, University of Hartford, University of Manitoba, University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University.

After the initial trip around the track, four teams will be selected by the judges to make a full business plan presentation in the “homestretch round,” consisting of a 15 minute oral presentation followed by a 30 minute question and answer session by judges to determine a winner.

“We’ll be giving out a green flag instead of a checkered one to symbolize the beginning of things for these students,” Cox said. “Our goal is to inspire them to launch businesses.”

Sughrue and Firle said they are honored to participate in the odd competition and expressed optimism for their chances.

“The enthusiasm and excitement we’ll bring to the plan will sell it,” said Sughrue. “We’ve been working on it for about a year and we might even launch it on our own someday.”

“I’m excited to run around the Indy 500,” Firle said. “This is truly unique and I’m interested to see what other schools come up with.”

Bell offered a last bit of advice that he says he’ll share with his eager understudies.

“I’ll tell them to be themselves,” said Bell. “Competent, prepared and competitive. Be Bobcats!”