For students participating in business plan competitions, forming a team that will work together to produce a successful business plan is just the beginning. Students must cooperate, solve problems and creatively approach all the aspects involved in navigating competitions that typically span an entire academic year.
For Paul Kirsch, program manager at the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., team formation in business plan competitions is one of the “biggest black boxes of the entire process.” The Zell Lurie Institute sponsors the Michigan Business Challenge, a business plan competition for University of Michigan undergraduate and graduate students.
“We sponsor live events and provide opportunities online for students to interact with each other so that they can find the best partners for their venture,” he says. “It’s not something that we can get involved in, in terms of matching students with each other, because then there might be problems if a team didn’t work out.”
The Institute provides opportunities to register online both for students who have an idea that they want to build a business plan upon as well as students who are looking to join a team that already has a business idea and plan in place. In the past, more than 1,000 students have registered on its site.
In addition, the Institute runs three or four “mingle and match” events before the competition begins so that students can gather in a room, listen to students with ideas pitch those plans and have the opportunity to talk with them about those plans, according to Kirsch. “We provide the space, pizza and soda over an hour and a half time period so students can mingle and form teams,” he adds.
Because putting the right people together is so critical to the success of a business plan competition team, students need to think through what they are looking for in other team members and seek complementary skills when forming a team. Learning how to form a team and work with team members with differing perspectives and skills is an important part of learning how to partner successfully with others on an entrepreneurial level, he notes.
“It’s important that students do their due diligence and take the initiative to find team members who they are compatible with and who will help them navigate the various events in the competition,” Kirsch says. “This is a critical skill for our students to develop as they move through the program.”
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