The Secrets to Entrepreneurial Success

Interested in participating in an entrepreneurship competitive event this year? Are you hoping your savvy entrepreneurship knowledge with take you all the way to the International Career Development Conference (ICDC)? Before you start anything, you should first understand what an entrepreneurship event judge could be looking for in a competitor.

Tara Richardson, owner of Custom Resources, LLC, judged the Entrepreneurship—Growing Your Business event at the 2013 International Career Development Conference—and she is a true entrepreneur herself.

She shared with DECA her own thoughts on how to be successful not only in DECA’s entrepreneurship events, but in the competitive entrepreneurship industry as well.

What is your overall impression of the level of entrepreneurial knowledge from DECA members after judging at ICDC?

Overall, the participants in this event were very knowledgeable. They had already experienced business ownership at some level and were savvy in several areas of entrepreneurship challenges such as manufacturing, supply and demand, distribution, marketing and customer service.

When you were judging the entrepreneurship events, what criteria did you look for in a standout project?

I followed the criteria listed on the judge’s score sheet and based the scores on my feeling of confidence in the students as business owners with realistic growth potential. Certainly the students’ business idea is the most important element to take into consideration. However, at the top of every pack of competitors, confidence and professionalism, along with being personable and comfortable, usually equates to at least half a point (which at ICDC is all it takes to separate the top 10).

Did any one project or entrepreneurial idea stick out to you so much that you still remember it today?

I remember a competitor who had a coffee roasting business (probably because I love coffee), but I was so impressed by the young entrepreneur’s knowledge about the coffee roasting process. I also recall a granola bar maker and another who had a pet snack business. However, the winning team, which created, manufactured and imported a belt, still comes to my mind. They earned my following on Facebook, and I’m able to watch their success, such as recently increasing the distribution of their product.

Is there an area in the entrepreneurship competitive events that members typically need to spend more time on?

I judged the Entrepreneurship Innovation Plan event at district level conferences and at that stage of competition I remember several concepts that scored very poorly on the rational and feasibility sections. At state and ICDC, in the Entrepreneurship—Growing Your Business event, I recall many plans for growth were often a little too optimistic.

Which evaluation elements do most members struggle with meeting during their presentation and what advice do you have to help members accomplish this?

Since members know exactly what criteria the judge will be given to score participants on, those criteria should be the road map to developing a presentation. Practice time is important so members can receive feedback from advisors, parents and business professionals and improve their presentation delivery. Using visuals effectively is another area that can be improved upon for most competitors. For example, if a graph is a part of a board or slide, it should be large enough for the judge to see and an explanation should be given. If the visual doesn’t deserve an explanation, it shouldn’t be a part of the presentation. Aids should only be used for the purpose of better explaining a tough or creative concept or showcasing something important.

In your opinion, what makes for a successful and realistic entrepreneurship project and how can a student take their project and turn it into something real?

A successful or realistic entrepreneurship project is one that quickly makes sense to the judge, meets a need that can easily be identified with or a cool idea that just has a certain wow factor. If the project idea is overly scientific or high-tech, the judge must be able to quickly understand it and believe in it. Personally, for me as a judge, I have to believe in it initially, or it has to be sold well to increase my belief in it in a short amount of time. For students to turn ideas into reality, they just need a desire to do so! Also, the willingness and ability to take the next step such as more research, going to pre-market, or to pitch it to someone who can help fund the next step.

In general, as an entrepreneur yourself, what do you think are the top three lessons students should know about entrepreneurship?

  • Lesson 1: There is a difference between being an entrepreneur and a business owner; just because someone thinks they are one, does not mean they are also the other. A business owner has the necessary management skills: organizing, planning, directing, evaluating. They are controllers who don’t like risk and hate to lose. An entrepreneur’s skills are much different and may be found in their head or heart. Instead of organization, they often thrive on the unknown. An entrepreneur does not give direction well and certainly does not take it well either. They often leave the job of evaluation up to the next person involved.
  • Lesson 2: If you are an entrepreneur, you may need a “job” to fund your habit of creation until one of your creative ideas is profitable. Even then, you may need additional funds to hire a business manager if you’re not also the business-owner type.
  • Lesson 3: An entrepreneur or business owner’s work is rarely ever done, but often it doesn’t seem like work. Instead, it is an accepted extension of their life.

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