Edinboro student, Emily Bowman, didn’t plan to enter a business plan competition during this academic year; she didn’t even know how to make one.
But in a technical writing class with Dr. Jeffery Bartone, creating plans was part of the course. And that’s where she first heard about the fifth annual State System Business Plan Competition.
Students from any of the 14 Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education universities can submit their business ideas for the chance of winning $10,000 to get that business started.
“It first started to promote entrepreneurship across the state system and to assist students in launching and growing businesses,” Gerald Ephault, the Pennsylvania’s State System Student Business Plan Coordinator said.
Bowman started her business, Slightly Sinister Apothecary, in June after spending most of the spring 2015 semester researching the bath balms she intended to make and sell.
“Basically, they make the water colorful and foamy, and they smell really good,” she said.
She chooses names for the product using history, literature and pop culture, but they are carefully chosen to sound like they came from an apothecary.
“It’s like what would be in a witch’s cabinet to make witches brew,” Bowman said.
Bowman sees a need to provide an inexpensive bath product, especially for college students. She feels that Lush, a national homemade cosmetics store, could be competition, but her products cater to a different segment of the students, as she says her products are more “quirky.”
Bowman’s mother was able to teach her what different oils and scents were best for, because of her interest in aroma therapy, which helped her daughter’s business get underway.
“I hand-make them, and it kind of looks like I’m making meth, because I have to have a mask on and everything,” Bowman said.
Until now, she has been selling to friends or through friends, but she hopes to expand beyond that. In the near future, she intends to set up an Etsy store and hopes to sell to Earthshine along Meadville Street after she makes packaging for the product.
If Bowman were to win, she wants to set up a store in Erie and to hire more people. She also wants to make more products, such as bath melts, sugar scrubs and other bath and beauty products.
“I already did the research, and there’s not many companies like that in Erie,” she said. “I would definitely feel the need.”
In addition to the first place prize, there will also be a $5,000 and $2,500 award for second and third place and two trophies, one for best video, as decided by students, and the other for the best poster displayed at the ceremony.
Students must first register by submitting an “intent to compete” form by Nov. 20, 2015. Then, they can begin creating a “venture profile” to be submitted by Feb. 1, 2016. That profile can be revised until May, but every question must be answered by February.
One of the contacts for Edinboro University, Dr. Timothy Few advises to submit an “intent to compete,” even if participating has only briefly crossed a student’s mind. He warns that if that portion isn’t submitted by its November deadline, then students cannot decide to join at a later point.
“The business plan is the support system,” Ephault said. “The process (of making a plan) is good whether you want to be an entrepreneur or a really good employee.”
“It makes you consider dynamics associated with the business.”
The money awarded to the winners comes from private sponsors, including one former winner who is giving back to the program that helped him start his business.
Johnathon Weber founded Marathon Studios after he won first place at the first competition. He is giving back $1,000 for prizes this year, according to Ephault.
Ephault is proud of the winners and how well businesses like Weber’s have grown, but he believes students benefit simply by participating.
“The most important things are to have a vision and to set goals early in life,” he said.
East Stroudsburg University student, Tammy Tuckey, agreed.
Tuckey competed last year, creating a plan to expand Tiara Talk Show, the business she started when she was only 14 years old.
Since last November, her website posts have been more consistent, as every week she interviews and features a different personality.
“I set up an interview with the voice of Meg from Hercules,” Tuckey said, “and that got me inspired to talk to more people like that.”
Tuckey would get in touch with people’s agents via phone calls or emails. She knew the importance of professionalism in communication at an early age.
“None of them knew I was 14,” she said. “They all thought I was 30.”
Last year, her plan placed sixth, but this year she hopes the Tiara Talk Show will stand out as one the top three.
“It’s about what differentiates you,” Ephault said. “In business, you want to be differentiated.”
Tracy Geibel is the Campus Life Editor of The Spectator. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org