Local College Entrepreneurs to Pitch Ideas at State Competition
Jennifer Graham thought her Great Dane, Rufus, was the world’s best pal. She thought that even after Rufus took sick and passed away. Then, a student at the University of Louisville pursuing a master’s in business administration, Graham decided to prove her devotion and help others prove theirs as well.
Graham invented Cuddle Clones, a business using a picture of a pet to create customized stuffed replicas. She took her business idea to a panel of judges at the Kentucky Idea State U competition. They gave her “valuable feedback” and $8,000 for the winning business concept.
The next year, in 2011, Graham took her full-fledged business plan back to Idea State U and entered it in the business plan competition. “We thought that we had a good chance of winning, especially because we had won the business concept competition the year before,” Graham said. She was right. Cuddle Clones received nearly $42,000 to put the business plan into action, which she did a little over a year ago.
Since launching the Cuddle Clones website in early 2013, her sales have gone from around $4,000 a month to around $25,000 a month. Customers place orders for stuffed animals of their pets, figurines, ornaments and even jewelry.
This weekend, on April 11-12, a record 29 teams will participate in the 2014 Idea State U at the Lexington Center. The various college student groups will pitch their business concepts and plans to judges in hopes of winning a share of the $100,000 in prize money. One team will also receive the Governor’s Innovation Award for innovative thinking and having the “wow” factor.
Graham said the value of Idea State U is not just in pitching the idea and improving presentation skills, but in “meeting other passionate entrepreneurs.”
The undergraduate and graduate students pitching their businesses will come from the eight Kentucky public universities, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System and the University of Pikeville. The competition is organized by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development.
Students from Northern Kentucky University will present plans for TrepStyle Marketing and Veggie Magic while students from Gateway Community & Technical College will showcase a product called CHAIRRIFIC.
“A great business idea can come from anyone, regardless of age or experience,” Cabinet Secretary Larry Hayes said. “College students from around the state are hard at work on the next big product, and we want to encourage and support their efforts. Idea State U not only provides much-needed financial support, but also real business advice students can use to make their ventures successful.”
Cash prizes are weighted to provide larger awards to teams whose entries are more fully developed and therefore more likely to succeed. Most of the money can only be claimed as reimbursements for specified business expenses after the team forms a legal company in Kentucky.
This is the first year KCTCS and UPIKE students will participate in Idea State U. The 2015 competition will be expanded to include all public and private postsecondary institutions in the Commonwealth.
The Office of Entrepreneurship within the Cabinet oversees Idea State U, as well as an array of other services, programs and initiatives to encourage small business growth. The goal of the office is to streamline the state’s focus and efforts to create and promote a strong culture of entrepreneurship.
For more information including a schedule of events, see IdeaStateU.com.
From Ky. Cabinet for Economic Development