Sweet seed money

July 6, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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The cash prizes awarded in April’s GVSU Business Plan Competition are nothing to sniff at, and there aren't any strings attached as to how the winners can spend the money. One of this spring's winners invested his prize in a small business start-up — and it wasn't even the type of business he was proposing in his winning plan.

The second annual Business Plan Competition sponsored by the GVSU Center for Entrepreneurship offered cash prizes of $5,000, $3,500 and $2,000, plus in-kind awards that included free consultations with a variety of professional services normally required in a small business start-up.

The competition is open to any GVSU undergrad, not just those working toward a degree in business.

"We believe entrepreneurship comes from different areas, not just business. We'd like to have a variety of students participating in that competition," said Eima Mangat, manager of the Business Plan Competition and a senior marketing manager at the Center for Entrepreneurship within the GVSU Seidman College of Business.

This year 24 students entered the competition by submitting a written plan for businesses they dream of starting some day. Eight of the best plans were selected, and those students then made oral presentations in early April to a panel of judges at Loosemore Auditorium on the GVSU downtown Grand Rapids campus.

Winner of the top prize was Tyler Way, a 23-year-old Brighton native who will graduate from GVSU late this year with a degree in advertising and public relations, and a minor in entrepreneurship.

Way's dream business is called T.WayCustoms and has already been earning him money over the past year. Way, who loves basketball and has worked in past summers as an instructor at basketball camps for youth, offers custom-decorated sneakers to a very small and well-heeled market: professional basketball players. Some of the shoes have been purchased by members of the Detroit Pistons at prices ranging from $1,200 to $1,500 per pair, and he received a lot of publicity recently by presenting a pair to LeBron James — the rising star of the Cleveland Cavaliers — when he was announced as this year's MVP of the NBA. (See James' shoes on Way's Web site: twaycustoms.net.)

Way, who is also marketing T-shirts bearing his designs, is devoting all his time this summer to his new business venture. He said last week he was “just starting” a couple of shoe projects. Each pair takes him 25 to 35 hours to decorate.

Second place winner in the Business Plan Competition is David Veldt, who presented his detailed plans for a future business in the Holland area called Lumberyard Baseball & Softball Training. But that business is on the back burner this summer because Veldt invested his $3,500 prize in a totally different kind of business, which is up and running: Studioeight12.com, a Web site design service.

Veldt is a 22-year-old Kalamazoo native who is now a senior at GVSU, majoring in business management. He said his expertise in Web site design is "all self-taught" and that after he created Web sites for two of his friends over the past year, he decided to make it official.

"I've got two Web sites I'm working on right now and a couple lined up in the future," he said. He charges from $500 to $2,500 for a Web site project.

His prize included a free hour of consultation with Zandstra Accounting, which "turned out to be most useful," according to Veldt. The accounting firm told him how and why to set up a corporation, which he did.

Veldt took an entrepreneurship class when he was a sophomore. At the time he was "really up in the air about my major and my future," he said, but the entrepreneurship class inspired him.

His idea for Lumberyard Baseball & Softball Training came to him three years ago when he was working during the summer at a real lumberyard during the day, and in the evening at a sports training facility for youngsters.

"Right now there is a really big boom in private lessons" in various sports, he said. He picked Holland as the location for his future business because facilities of that type already exist in the Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids areas, but not in Holland.

Katie Racey of Farmington Hills was the third place winner, for her plan for Formal Freedom LLC. She will be a senior this fall and is majoring in hospitality and tourism management.

Racey was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at age 14 and must wear an insulin pump, which is usually worn on a belt like a cell phone holder. There is no practical way to wear one when a woman is dressed in formal clothing, so Racey has invented a way to do that and is now developing a prototype. She will not reveal how her idea works because it is not patented yet.

"I've always been interested in entrepreneurship, since I was little. I come from a family of entrepreneurs," she said. She actually presented an earlier version of her business plan last fall at Idea Pitch in Chicago, a national competition for entrepreneurs, and won first place.

Racey has done research indicating that the market for her device could be as many as 300,000 Americans. She expects to have her product on the market "some time this year," and will be using social networking Web sites as her main medium for marketing.

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