Huntsman Post

Winning idea aims to give a little help to struggling entrepreneurs

Students and judges listen to presentations at the Huntsman School of Business Opportunity Quest competition.

Photo by Sterling Morris

By Paul Lewis Siddoway

Two Utah State students recently won $2,000 just for having a great idea.

Josh Light and Sterling Morris, students at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, won the money as a prize during the Opportunity Quest competition, an event designed to test the business-planning skills of students.

The company, called iMicroInvest, gives investors access to investment opportunities in developing economies through sites like Facebook. The two students took their idea to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, a national contest in Washington, D.C., that drew 22,000 applicants, and they came away with second place.

Dave Clark, executive director of entrepreneurial programs at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, explained that the prize money awarded by Opportunity Quest goes toward the start-up costs of the businesses the students create.

“The cash is given to the students to enable them to go forward and actually execute their plan and create new businesses,” he said.

Zions Bank helps sponsor Opportunity Quest by providing funding to each university involved to allow the individual schools to run their own competition, Mr. Clark said. The organization gave Utah State $8,000 for promotion costs and prize money.

From the 30 business plans submitted, a student-run evaluation team called The New Venture Consulting Group, screened and selected 10 finalists. A representative of each company was then invited to give a presentation to a panel of judges. The iMicroInvest business plan was selected as the most creative and the most likely to be a successful business.

Other participants in 2010’s Opportunity Quest included a company that recycles plastic twine used in livestock operations, and another that proposed the production and use of bandages that come off a roll, like a tape dispenser.

The Opportunity Quest event started in 2004 in response to the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, a statewide competition established in 2001 hosted by the University of Utah. The organizers wanted a feeder competition at more locations around Utah to encourage broader participation from business students and entrepreneurs statewide. With the success of Opportunity Quest, the founders decided in 2006 to add one more competition to feed into Opportunity Quest called the techTITANS Idea Challenge, which is based on a two-page summary of an idea and is open to anyone. Opportunity Quest is judged on a six- to 10-page executive summary of a business plan. The Utah Entrepreneur Challenge is judged on a 30- to 40-page business plan.

Winners from the fall Opportunity Quest competition are automatically entered into the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge in the spring. However, all Opportunity Quest participants are encouraged and invited to further develop and refine their business plans and enter the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge to compete for a $40,000 grant toward start-up costs for their businesses.

Mr. Clark says he wants students to understand that these are not the only competitions out there, and they are not exclusive to business students.

Mr. Clark said students who are not in the business school and perhaps lack confidence in their business skills are exactly the type of students he would like to see team up with business students.

“I’d love to have journalism students get into this, and biology students, and engineering students,” Mr. Clark said. “There are many ideas on this campus that we could discover and help promote.”