Why I quit my job to join Biz Plan Competitions

by Joe Hurley

If there had been business plan competitions back in the late 1970s when I was going through college and graduate school, I suspect I would have taken a different career path. Even so, I may very well have ended up in the same place I am now.

You see, I was born to own my own business. It started in elementary school when I decided to establish a sidewalk-shoveling business. I sold my services to neighbors and provided a quality job. I charged ten cents per trip. My best customer gave me fifty cents.

In high school I was an independent contractor for the town newspaper during the school year, reporting on the sports teams for forty cents per printed inch. During the summers, my best friend Bob Leonard and I owned and operated the food concession at a local swim club. Our profits spiked when we a started a contest that would reward the most frequent buyer of sugar-fried pizza dough at summer’s end with a gargantuan fried doughball.

At the small liberal-arts college I attended, I simply studied (Economics and Psychology). Curiously, there was a guy on campus named Steve Case, a true entrepreneur who later grew America Online to become the dial-up powerhouse. He was promoting rock concerts on campus. I didn’t know quite what to make of that. A written aptitude test told me I would make a good accountant. So that’s what I did.

I accepted an offer from Peat Marwick Mitchell (now KPMG) in New York City and attended graduate business school at night only because it was requirement of my job (my undergraduate college had no accounting courses). I studied accounting, finance, and operations research. There was nary a business plan competition in sight.

I never really enjoyed being a staff accountant although I did enjoy the technical challenge of taxation. Job satisfaction increased measurably once I became partner at a regional CPA firm in upstate New York, because I was now making decisions as an owner, and reaping the financial rewards.

Still, I kept in my wallet a list of over 100 of my own business ideas and inventions. I pursued the only one I felt would not conflict with my current job: a philanthropic device called the Charitable Gift Certificate. By gifting this certificate to someone else, you were allowing that other person to name the charity that would receive 100% of your donation. I established a 501(c)(3) charity in 1990 called the Help Our World (HOW) Foundation to run the pass-through program. The idea worked seamlessly, and even went viral in a small way (remember, this was before the World Wide Web.)

[The HOW Foundation was mothballed after its only staff volunteer, a wonderful secretary at the accounting firm named Jeanne Gerger, retired from her job. I would love to see HOW resurrected some day soon, and perhaps even entered into a non-profit venture contest.]

Finally, in 1997 I found my path to entrepreneurial self-fulfillment. Section 529 college tuition plans had just been authorized by Congress, and I decided to become THE expert on this obscure but important topic. I wrote articles, gave talks, and appeared at hearings in Washington D.C. I wrote and self-published a book called “The Best Way to Save for College” which has sold over 100,000 copies. And I started a website at www.savingforcollege.com to offer unbiased information on 529 plans as well as to promote the book. Ultimately, I left my accounting firm to run Savingforcollege.com LLC.

In 2007 I sold my college-savings website and publishing business to Bankrate Inc., a fine company with a top-notch editorial staff, and my staff and I joined Bankrate as employees. On my own time I began helping, and financing, a new website (www.findingbenjamin.com) run by our two children Megan (now 23) and Chris (20) that offers up money-making ideas for young people.

At a Finding Benjamin planning meeting one day, Megan announced that she had been looking at online search metrics and thought we might want to focus more closely on business plan competitions.

Business plan competitions? That sounded interesting. And after some research it looked downright exciting. What could be better than promoting and reporting on a rapidly growing industry that is assisting so many entrepreneurs in pursuing their dreams?

Biz Plan Competitions was born. Now I’m jumping in with both feet, to work alongside my two children and, I hope, to see the business succeed. I’ve resigned my position at Bankrate Inc. and I will no longer be the “529 Guru.” Certainly, I will miss all the friends I’ve made in my 529 travels.

But I will once again be doing what I feel I was born to do.

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Joe Hurley is a CPA, author of "The Best Way to Save for College - A Complete Guide to 529 Plans", founder of Savingforcollege.com, and co-founder of Bizplancompetitions.com. He has also recently started making maple syrup.
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6 Responses to Why I quit my job to join Biz Plan Competitions

  1. Susie Bauer says:


    First I wish you and your family ALL the best. Sounds exciting and fun. I will enjoy following your new adventure and hope to cross paths often.

    Second, you will ALWAYS be THE 529 Guru!

    And lastly, (for now) THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU HAVE DONE FOR 529s!! You are THE BEST!
    CIAO for now Joe!

  2. Cindy Comer says:

    Joe–it won’t be the same without you! Best of luck to you and your family. Cindy

  3. Bob Leonard says:

    True entrepreneurs are born and destined to it’s curses and rewards. It is in our blood, it is in our Children’s blood and hopefully will be in our Grand Children’s blood. Best of all, we have the ability to give to our children wisdom, encouragement and cushion through their business adventures. Best of luck to you in their venture – remember “their venture” – I seem to forget that every summer when I jump back in. I leave for Austin on Saturday to spend a month with my Son and his business; In August and September I will be doing the same with my Daughter in Maine. Maybe we can hit Saratoga this year.

    Congratulation to you and my best to your wife and children.

    Finally, there was a “Jumbo Joe” and a “Big Bob” long before the huge success of our Sugar-Fried Pizza Dough – Just shows that you don’t have to be right every time nor do you have to be right the first time.

    Bob Leonard

  4. Lynne Ward says:

    Joe -
    Best wishes with this new endeavor as well as your maple syrup business. Thank you for all that you’ve done to educate and encourage families to save for college through 529 plans. We’ll miss you!
    - Lynne

  5. Yolanda says:

    I am an entrepreneur and entrepreneurship advocate. I LOVE the fact that you started this site (so I don’t have to!). I was looking for some business plan competitions that I may want to enter my new business into and to share with my entrepreneur colleagues. I’ll share this site instead and will post a link on my blog.

    Thanks. I look forward to watching its growth!

    Yolanda Brown

  6. Good to see a new face in the competition space :)

    We wish you best of luck with your new site! Perhaps our roads will cross some time in future.

    Kind regards,
    Gustav Borgefalk, Studentcompetitions.com

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