Four years ago, a group of 10 investors, the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp. and IU School of Informatics and Computing Dean Bobby Schnabel helped launch the Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology (BEST) competition. The objective was to enhance the entrepreneurial culture at IU Bloomington by giving seniors and graduate students two important advantages that many budding business owners lack.
One is the feedback gained by presenting ideas before a panel of seasoned investors who have walked the path to prosperity and know where most of the obstacles lie. Another is the high-stakes nature of those presentations. In all, $250,000 in seed money is on the line — including $100,000 for the top idea. If the new businesses succeed, IU will receive an initial equity stake in each winning company, with any returns on investment going back to the School of Informatics and Computing and the Kelley School of Business.
According to BEST organizers, it’s the most valuable competition of its kind in the world for students at a single university.
“It would be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t aware of that,” said Kevin Casimer, co-founder of FundSponge, which competed in the event. “There’s a difference between pitching to win a $5,000 contest and pitching to get a $100,000 investment.”
Scott Dorsey, a co-founder and former CEO of ExactTarget, an Indianapolis-based interactive marketing technology firm, was among the investors who founded BEST. He earned his undergraduate degree in marketing from IU’s Kelley School of Business and played a lead role in this year’s competition.
“Hopefully it’s a turbo-booster to give them more passion around the idea they want to pursue. These are young people who have big dreams and want help and guidance to avoid mistakes and get some velocity.”
— Scott Dorsey, co-founder of ExactTarget and BEST panelist
Eight finalists competed in this year’s BEST competition, whose winners will not be announced until later this spring. But win or lose, the experience gained from BEST will serve participants for years down the road.
“There are questions that were being brought up that we didn’t really think about,” said Kevin Chon, head of business for Openwords, which pitched its language-learning application before the panel. “We’re not investors, so they’re going to be thinking about it from a different perspective than we are. We get to hear that, and we’re going to be talking to a lot of investors in the future. It gets us more prepared for those questions.”
Since the BEST was created, its support has expanded to 26 investors. Applications for the 2015-2016 BEST competition will be accepted in the fall. Read more about the BEST competition here or visit its website.