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    Prepping to win


    Every year, a handful of Australian entrepreneurs win recognition though high profile business plan competitions staged throughout Australia. Along with prestige and expectation, they gain the exposure and resources required to turn dream into reality. But, as Jodie O’Keeffe discovers, the day after a competition triumph is when the real learning begins.

    In jeans and casual shirt, Campbell King looks like any other twenty-something you’d pass in the street. Except the shirt bears his own company’s logo and, while others spend their time drinking beer, he makes a profit from it as well.

    Displaying business nous beyond his 22 years, King is at ease behind the desk in his Melbourne office.

    “It’s quite a systemised business,” he says of Kegs on Legs, the party keg hire and delivery business he started with Valjean Boynton, 24, in 2004. They are currently immersed in the process of establishing a national franchise system. “We want to put in place systems to make everything as easy as possible for someone else to do it,” says King.

    Clearly, he is a man with a plan, envisioning a future where he spends more time growing the business than running it.

    Meeting as RMIT Bachelor of Business (Entrepreneurship) students, King and Boynton rigged up some portable draught beer dispensing equipment for ‘personal’ use. When family, friends and random party guests began asking to borrow it, the pair knew they were onto a good thing. Established as a first year university project, Kegs on Legs has come a long way in a short time, with a comprehensive party offering, a six-digit annual turnover and catchy prime-time radio jingle (with a name like Kegs on Legs, would you expect less?).

    In 2006, King and Boynton entered the 2006 RMIT Business Plan Competition and, against 74 other entrants, took out the $25,000 first prize. The competition provided the quality feedback and mentorship vital to a startup business (and difficult to garner elsewhere), not to mention the free publicity generated by the win.

    Each year in Australia some $350,000 in prizes, plus hours of free professional consultation and services, is up for grabs in business plan competitions run by universities around the country. And that’s just the local ones – many overseas competitions invite entrants from anywhere in the world. With so much to gain, the opportunity provided by these competitions for a small business like Kegs on Legs is hard to ignore. Winning can be the stepping stone to wider recognition, increased credibility and more funding.


    King says Kegs on Legs won the competition because, simply, the plan worked.

    “We weren’t trying to take over the world. We had defined goals that were measurable and achievable. And, having an operational business, for every question they asked, we had an answer.”

    They made their plan concise and easy to read on the premise that a judge trawling through 35 plans will notice one that reads well. Similarly, in the final round, the pair stood out from the nine other competitors with a short and somewhat cheeky pitch.

    “Although we had 15 minutes to pitch, we said everything we needed to in eight. We pulled a few beers to demonstrate the product and the judges were very much obliging,” says King, smiling.

    Buoyed by their success, King and Boynton decided to take things a step further, entering the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Challenge in Canada and securing a place in the final 16. A trip to Ontario, Canada is on the cards. Preceded by some ‘product research’, the duo will spend a long weekend prepping, pitching, networking and, with luck, winning.


    While the prospects for Kegs on Legs look bright, there is a difference, of course, between winning a competition and building a winning business.

    Ken Baker, of next-generation network security software firm IntelliGuard, says the two should not be confused. When IntelliGuard won the 2004 Melbourne University Entrepreneurs’ Challenge (MUEC), their technology was early stage. They approached it as a selling exercise, where the product on offer was not their software, but themselves.

    “The business plan competition taught us that presentation – the pitch, especially – is the most important selling tool. In our business, we were selling ourselves and asking for money. So, our sales method was a good pitch and plan,” says Baker.

    Since winning MUEC, IntelliGuard secured venture capital and a COMET grant, facilitating further development of their software. An alpha version of the IntelliGuard product, able to intelligently filter massive amounts of data, is expected in June. Baker is talking to the likes of Hewlett Packard and Intel about a path to market. Even now he is uncertain what form this will take, perhaps partnering, perhaps licensing, but back in his 2004 business plan he ‘estimated’.

    “The path to market is speculative in the very early stages, but you have to fill in that part of the plan. They want to see that you understand the different methods. It doesn’t matter if you don’t go with the nominated path; hardly anyone ends up doing what they thought they’d be doing. What matters is that you understand what you’ll have to go through. The business plan competition makes you do that,” says Baker.

    Whether it’s bluff or a solid ‘guesstimate’, the path to market is emerging as the all-important element of a winning business plan. When Fusion Sport won the University of Queensland’s $100,000 Enterprize competition in 2003, founder Markus Deutsch claims it was the commercialisation strategy for their performance monitoring device, Smartspeed, that got them over the line.

    “We won because we had a very good idea of how we were going to market the product and make money off it. Most companies had good products – there were some great gizmos that were going to change the world – but they didn’t really have an idea how to market and sell them,” says Deutsch.

    For Deutsch and his team, beating a field of bright ideas on the strength of a well thought-out commercialisation strategy further reinforced its importance.

    “We thought, ‘Well, if the judges are so focused on the marketing and selling side of the business, then potential investors will be even more interested in it.’ It made us realise that this was the right area to focus our effort.”

    Four years on, Fusion Sport has tracked well according to their winning business plan, but Deutsch found that putting theory into practice doesn’t always produce the desired result.

    “Things come up that you don’t foresee, like regulatory issues, for example. Also, to market Smartspeed in the UK, we planned to set up direct agents. But I spent two years working there and found it was better to use distributors. That’s the main thing we wasted effort on,” he says.

    Even so, Smartspeed is gaining international momentum, with several big name English Premier League clubs, including Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal, using it as a training tool. It even stars in the UK reality television series ‘Football Icon’, measuring the speed, agility and reflexes of entrants hoping to be the next Chelsea FC recruit. Without the Enterprize win, Deutsch says progress would have been a lot slower.

    “We’d probably be a year behind where we are now. We did have Plan B, but the win certainly helped.”


    Not every entrant wins a prize and, even those who do are not guaranteed ‘real world’ success. So why do so many entrepreneurs spend time and money putting themselves at the mercy of a handful of judges, in full public view?

    “It’s part of our education,” says King at Kegs on Legs, “You put yourself out there for feedback and criticism. It’s not just your university lecturer giving you a mark, it’s in the public domain and you get a broad range of people giving you feedback.”

    True to the adage that all publicity is good publicity, he adds, “We also use these competitions to get our name out there.”

    For Baker, the judging process forced him to be more objective about IntelliGuard.

    “You learn to understand your own business. You step back from it, and look at it, rather than be in it. You ask yourself, what am I doing here? Why am I doing it? How am I doing it? Then you learn to convey that to other people.”

    While every entrant can benefit from this exercise, there is an intangible reward reserved for winners, as Deutsch discovered when Fusion Sport won Enterprize.

    “More than anything, it gave us confidence. We were judged by well-respected peers to be going about things in the appropriate way. It gave us confidence that we were on the right track.”


    For some competition entrants, however, the glory of winning on awards night is dampened by a single, sobering thought the next morning: “Now what?”

    Undoubtedly, many entrants participate fully intending to execute the plan and some competitions stipulate this as an entry requirement, only awarding funds when milestones are met. Often the business is already established and the business plan competition is at the very least a learning exercise with the chance to fund the next step. But what about the entrant who went along for the learning experience and ended up winning?

    As competitions are generally affiliated with a university, many entrants are students. Upon graduation, only the most die-hard entrepreneur will run with a winning business plan when the option of a well-paid corporate job beckons.

    Other winners recognise that winning is only the beginning and that converting the plan into action takes more effort, dedication and funding than they are willing to muster. The decision to follow through with a winning plan should be well considered. Indeed, even the most promising past winners disappear without trace, perhaps quietly regrouping before launching, perhaps not.

    When Bond University’s MBA team Nudleman won the 2005 John Heine Entrepreneurial Challenge and followed up with fourth place at the 2006 global Moot Corp Challenge in Austin, Texas, the future looked bright for the mobile noodle vending concept. Trademarks were registered, domain names were reserved.

    In April 2006, team member Drew Blaxland graduated as valedictorian of his MBA class, declaring the world his oyster.

    “The MBA has broadened my horizons. I’ll take some time now to sit back and consider all my options before making my next move. For me, 2006 is all about enjoying life’s simplicities again,” he said in a Bond University press release.

    Clearly a winning concept on paper, the Nudleman plan is yet to come to fruition. Perhaps 2007 will be their year and the team will demonstrate that the success of a business relies not on a solid plan, but on its painstaking, all-consuming execution.


    At the end of a 24-hour journey home following their crack at the Queen’s Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, King and Boynton are celebrating a successful trip. Their Kegs on Legs business plan wasn’t the overall winner, but they did snare the Innovation Award, with a thousand Canadian dollars attached. For the young managing directors, however, the real reward was in the experience.

    “We felt like we were in the Olympic Games of business plan competitions. We were really well looked after by the students running the competition, with volunteer drivers and minders,” says King.

    “They had some big name judges from Canadian business, including Clive Beddoe, CEO of WestJet Airlines and Sean Wise, creator of The Dragon’s Den. Hearing their stories and their feedback was inspiring.”

    The pair received the Innovation Award for identifying a niche market and developing processes and systems to capitalise on it. Though they intend to franchise the business nationally, the trip opened their eyes to global potential. They may need to adjust their plan. “We did some market research while we were there and our idea could work in the North American market. But we’ll take it one step at a time. Australia first, then the world.”


    No longer being just the friendly, green, hilly bit on the western edge of Britain, Wales is establishing itself as an innovation hub, with a network of technology-led innovation centres known as Technium.

    To attract the attention of innovative young technology companies around the world, the annual Technium Challenge business planning competition is extending invitations to entrants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France and China.

    The prize? A seven-day Welsh learning journey for finalists, plus a ‘soft-landing solution’ for the winner, with one-year’s free desk space at a Technium centre in Wales, plus local professional advice and assistance.

    Rhodri Tudor-Jones of the Welsh Development Agency says the international challenge has been developed to address the needs of smaller, smarter technology companies looking to expand their reach.

    “In Australia and New Zealand, cash is a big issue for smaller companies and the Technium Challenge offers an option for businesses to have a direct presence in the UK,” says Tudor-Jones.

    “This is pretty important for a company when they’re trying to crack it so far from home, in a cost-effective manner, especially considering the dollar to pound conversion.”

    To use Wales as your stepping stone to global success, check out www.technium.co.uk/challenge.


    These business plan competitions invite international entrants, so land a place in the finals and pack your bags for some global pitching.


    Open to graduate students from all universities, with a judging panel of Silicon Valley VCs and US$25,000 in cash prizes.



    Welsh technology innovation network Technium invites international companies to participate in the Technium Challenge, offering a UK market entry support package for winning teams.



    India’s biggest business plan competition, open to students and working professionals from around the world.



    Open to entrepreneurs, students and professionals worldwide, US$5,000 cash award fi rst prize, with an extra prize of 1,000ft of lab/office space for a year.



    Run by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship in Houston, Texas, open to all full-time and part-time graduate students, over US$300,000 in cash and prizes.



    From the Said Business School in Oxford, UK and organised by the Oxford Science Enterprise Centre. Largest in the UK.



    Hosted by the University of Texas at Tyler, open to all faculty-sponsored, full-time and part-time undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in any college or university, US$235,000 in cash prizes.



    At the Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, open to university students worldwide, with CAD$25,000 in prizes.