'Shark Tank,' Quinlan style
How can a business produce a positive benefit to the community — beyond the benefit provided to its customers?
It’s a difficult question even for the most seasoned of business professionals, but this year, 13 student teams took up the challenge. They submitted their business plans to Quinlan at the end of March, and a group of judges deliberated until they finally landed on the top five. For those five finalists, the work is not over yet. They will present their business plans to a panel of Chicago business leaders during the final round of the competition on April 12, in the hope of winning a cash prize.
“I was surprised last year,” said Michael Welch, instructor of management and competition coordinator. “There was one plan that really stuck out to me as a contender for first place, but during the final round, there was another presentation that was absolutely phenomenal and it won first place.
“You never know who is going to win.”
The event goes beyond the competition. The coordinators are passionate about making the day a forum on social enterprise; to really see how it works in real life. In the spirit of that, the competition itself is open to other schools, and anyone — students, faculty, or people from the community — is welcome to attend the April 12 event.
The day will kick off with keynote speakers David Miller and Stephen Rivard, co-founders of Iroquois Valley Farms, who buy farmland and rent it out to people who engage in organic, sustainable farming. A panel of past winners of the competition will describe how their businesses have grown and changed, and will answer questions from the audience.
Finally, there is the last round of the competition, where the five finalists will give a 10-minute presentation of their plans, and allow for 10 minutes of Q and A from the judges. While the audience cannot ask questions during the presentation, they will have the opportunity to ask questions while the judges deliberate.
“We try to make this event as participatory as we can,” Welch said. “It’s a competition, but it is also a forum on social enterprise.”