When Jeremy Gregg was looking for a way to get more potential borrowers interested in his micro lending non-profit, he decided to start a business plan competition. The competition was so successful in sparking interest in The Plan Fund that he’s planning to hold two competitions next year, eventually expanding to four.
The Plan Fund’s 2011 Business Plan Competition, sponsored by Capital One, awarded grants and software to four entrepreneurs. The Plan Fund’s Business Plan Competition is designed to help specific disadvantaged populations — including men that have been recently released from jail and graduates of a small business training program at the YWCA of Greater Dallas — learn more about starting their own businesses, according to Jeremy Gregg, executive director of The Plan Fund.
“We focus on low to moderate income entrepreneurs, those who are disadvantaged and extremely credit challenged,” he says. “Our business plan competition, which concluded in November, gave us the opportunity to bring attention to what we do, attract more applicants and provide grants and QuickBooks software to the four entrepreneurs who won the competition.”
The Plan Fund’s focus is quite different from that of most organizations that sponsor business plan competitions, notes Gregg. “We focus on micro loans — our average loan is $2,000, but can be as low as $500,” he says. “We’re trying to help men who are out of prison, battered women and the homeless start their own businesses so that they can earn a decent income of anywhere from $30,000 to $40,000.”
As part of the business plan competition, 10 applicants who submitted proposals were chosen to partner with business bankers from Capital One to work on their fully-blown business plan. Those bankers gave the contestants anywhere from eight to thirty hours of mentoring and helped them write their business plan to the contest’s specifications.
Those specifications included descriptions of the business plan in 10 different areas, including marketing, finance and operations. The business plan couldn’t be any longer than 10 pages, which forced contestants to boil their idea down and make it as easy to understand as possible, Gregg says.
“The entrepreneurs really benefitted from being matched up with a mentor, who guided them through the process of putting the business plan together,” he adds. “And it was good for Capital One, because they were able to fulfill some of their community development requirements by sponsoring the contest.”
Next year, The Plan Fund will hold two separate business plan competitions, which Gregg is already planning for; the year after, he hopes to scale up the format to four different business plan competitions. The goal is to attract as much attention to the Plan Fund as possible to get more loan applications and help these underserved populations get a head start on becoming entrepreneurs.
To win, contestants had to score the most points in three areas: the business plan competition, a 10 minute pitch competition in the Shark Tank format and a 10 minute question and answer session with the judges.
Photo credit: Jeremy Gregg
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