Student entrepreneurs learn importance of listening at UM-D business idea pitch

By M.J. GALBRAITH
Metromode Media

Mobility and healthy eating. Two important issues for Michiganders, and the focus of a small business competition for student entrepreneurs.

Local business leaders and small business boosters selected the winners at this year’s University of Michigan-Dearborn Business Idea Pitch Competition. There were 24 teams that submitted to the contest, 11 teams that were selected for competition, and four that were chosen as winners of the scholarship money.

Students at the UM-D College of Business competed for thousands of dollars in scholarship money, with two teams each taking home $2,000, splitting the top prize, and two runners-up each taking $500.

“This was an idea competition, not a business plan competition,” says Timothy Davis, director of iLabs at UM-D. “We wanted to see the students clearly describe their business idea and show that there’s a need.

“We want students to recognize problems because problems are what create opportunities.”

The winning students were judged on their ability to create a product, present it to prospective customers, take their critical feedback, and tweak the products based on those comments. Davis says that conversation is a hard skill to teach in the classroom, but one that’s invaluable in the business world. Empathy and the ability to listen to customers is something that businesses want to see, he says.

Business pitches included products that encouraged kids to eat healthily, a healthy food and recipe delivery service, and a short-term car rental service. Davis believes that at least some of the students plan on pursuing their products further, and perhaps try and bring them to market.

For Davis, it’s not necessarily important that the students start actual businesses around their products, but instead learn from the process of identifying problems and attempting to solve them. Find your customers and make them happy, he says.

“If you don’t have customers, you have a hobby.”

(This story was reprinted from Metromode Media. It also is available at: www.secondwavemedia.com/metromode/devnews/IdeaPitchResults.aspx.)