Entrepreneur Students Test Business Skills

April 28, 2003

In the end it was all about information and infusionals.

The Karl Eller Center hosted its annual Tegeler Business Plans competition Thursday at the Eller College of Business and Public Administration.

Two teams of young entrepreneurs - one graduate and one undergraduate - were judged to have best guided their ideas for new startup companies. They had to get past more than two dozen competitors and a gauntlet of battle-worn judges in a process not unlike what they might face in the real business world.

The undergraduates - John Drachman, Marissa Weckerly and Samantha Zipp - won with their concept of a consulting firm designed to help high school students with the transition into college.

Grad students Blake Burnett, Brett Coquette and Mason Helms won with an ambitious plan to eat into coffee giant Starbucks' market share by expanding their three Tucson-based Xoom Juice shops, where they concoct fruit and yogurt drinks with added nutrients, which they call infusionals.

The two teams beat out other groups with concepts like composite materials for manufacturing hardware for military contractors, Internet scheduling software to help thwart the high levels of attrition among hospital nurses, improving breeding techniques in the cattle industry and developing a school bus system for several countries in South America.

The five judges, all successful entrepreneurs themselves, said it was difficult to decide the winners.

"They all were pretty even," said Chris McGuire, vice president of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, and the namesake of the newly named Cris and Carol McGuire Entrepreneurship Program at the Eller College. "Their presentations were very, very good."

"We looked at things like the overall concept, viability and potential for success," said John Buttery, president of SkiView, an outdoor advertising company. "The groups were very well prepared this year. Their fundamentals were very good and well thought out."

Both declined to reveal what tipped the balance in favor of the winning teams, citing judging rules.

All finalists received monetary awards, provided this year by Snell & Wilmer, but the experience may be the real prize for the students. The pitches made to the judges were skillfully crafted and designed to be the same kind of demonstrations entrepreneurs might make to potential investors.

"We're famous for our presentations," said Gary Libecap, a professor of economics and director of the Karl Eller Center.

"Every year at the Oregon Business Plans Competition, everyone looks at Arizona for the next wave of presentation skills," he said. Libecap attributes the improved stagecraft in part to David Nott, a professor of media arts who works with entrepreneurship students.

Since the competition started in 1985, Libecap said student plans "have become more sophisticated. Along every margin. The content is better, and the students have a better sense of business opportunities, marketing, finance and operations."

One reason, he said, is that Tucson has become a larger, more cosmopolitan city over the last two decades. The business community here has diversified to include aerospace, optics, software and other high-tech companies. So have venture capital firms, which Libecap has courted to allow students to see how the business of funding startups operates.

Libecap says the UA McGuire Entrepreneurship Program has graduated students who have started more than 100 companies, and earn on average about $10,000 a year more than their peers at the Eller College.

Other activities during the 2003 Tegeler Business Plans Competition

Arizona businessmen Charles Horn and Alfredo Molina were honored as Eller Entrepreneurial Fellows; Steve Lindstrom as the Entrepreneurship Faculty Member of the Year; Jennifer Escalas, Steven Permut and Sandy Klasa as Eller Faculty Scholars; and Mary Budzien, K. Randall Williams-Gurian and Michael Williams as 2003 inductees to the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame. Certificates were awarded to the entrepreneurship class of 2003 and scholarships to members of the class of 2004.

The 2003 Tegeler Business Plans Competition was sponsored by the St. Louis-based Tegeler Foundation. UA alumnus Timothy Tegeler, a longtime supporter of entrepreneurship at the UA, was named to the Karl Eller Center's Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in 1999.

The law firm of Snell & Wilmer provided the monetary awards for this year's Business Plans Competition. Snell & Wilmer, one of the largest full-service law firms in the Western United States, has been providing legal services to businesses and individuals since 1938. With nearly 350 attorneys practicing in offices located throughout the region, the firm is able to address virtually any legal matter for its more than 8,000 clients, which include large publicly-traded corporations, small businesses, emerging organizations and entrepreneurs.