UTAH TECH UNIVERSITY'S STUDENT NEWS SOURCE | February 23, 2024

Inaugural Business Innovation Competition puts students in real-life pitch scenario

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Students who have great business ideas but no one to pitch them to are getting a chance to do just that. 

Opportunity Quest is holding its first Business Innovation Competition where students can put together a business presentation and pitch it to potential investors. And the team with the best presentation will be awarded a $2,000 grand prize, with the second and third best teams receiving $1,000 and $500, respectively.

Opportunity Quest is traditionally held in the fall and requires students to submit a lengthy executive summary about business ideas, and those summaries are then judged and winners are chosen.

But the new Business Innovation Competition will deviate from that format. This time, students will be presenting their ideas to actual investors; the winners won’t be chosen just on the written executive summary. Now they’ll have to include elements of public speaking, Q&A, posture, potential nervous habits, eye contact and demonstration.

These were all things Opportunity Quest co-director Michael Atencio said the Dixie State University business majors needed to improve upon.

Atencio, a senior business major from Riverside, Calif., said the initiative is to help students learn how to effectively communicate their business ideas in a real-world situation.

“It’s a pitch competition,” Atencio said. “It’s meant for all Dixie State [University] students. It allows them, if they have an idea or a concept, to pitch it to representatives of investors.”

Atencio said a one-page executive summary will be due, but it’s not judged. The bulk of the decision will be made by the teams’ communication success during the business pitch to representatives from Zions Bank.

Atencio and his co-director, Kara Anderson, thought of the idea to have students compete in an actual pitch competition at the awards ceremony for last semester’s Opportunity Quest.

The students were given time to explain their business ideas during the award presentation. But Atencio said a lot of the verbal explanations fell short.

“There was a lot of ambiguity,” Atencio said.

Zions Bank Vice President Paul Dotson will be one of the three judges, and he also attended the awards banquet. He said the business students could definitely improve their communication skills.

“Last year [there was] a written competition,” Dotson said. “Steve (Vieira) and I went to the awards banquet, and we felt like there’s maybe a need to spiff up the verbal presentations.”

Steve Vieira, Zions Bank southern Utah regional president and competition judge, said the visual presentation can make or break a business pitch.

“People will form a strong first impression of you within three seconds,” he said. “What we say, how we say it, and what we look like when we’re saying it are all very important to getting the message across.”

Vieira said most of the communicating takes place non-verbally, so he suggested students record their presentations and review them to catch things like nervous habits or mumbling.

“If you’re not videoing your presentation and reviewing it, I think you’re wasting your time,” he said.

Atencio said the competition will be a good opportunity for entrepreneurial students to start focusing on the communication skills they’ll need to successfully start a business.

“Your business students and your computer science students don’t really have a lot of classes that focus on the communication ability,” Atencio said. “So it gives a huge advantage to communication majors because they’re able to vocalize effectively what they’re trying to do.”

The third judge is Adam Rich, Zions Bank commercial relationship manager, and his day-to-day job is listening to small business owners convince him to lend them money.

“I sit in my office and I listen to pitches all day, every day,” he said.

Rich said written presentations and calculations can only get a person so far. When it comes to driving home the pitch, he said startup business owners must be able to present the idea without relying heavily on notes or PowerPoint presentations.

“If you have a great idea and you want to sell an idea, I don’t want to look at the back of your head as you’re presenting your idea,” he said. “I want to look in your eyes. I want to be able to see and believe in you. Really, when you’re selling your business, you’re selling yourself.”

Atencio said a good plan would be for business and communication majors to team up. The two talents combined will offer the judges a sound business plan and a good presentation.

“If you’re a business major, and you clearly have a deficiency in vocalizing, it might be advantageous to partner up with a communication major,” he said.

He also said students shouldn’t be nervous to present because they’ll only be competing against other students.

“It’s open for [DSU] students only,” he said. “We’re very fortunate that all the students are undergraduates, so you’re not competing against CPAs or MBAs. A lot of this is based upon being able to communicate. It’s not like you have to understand all these huge business concepts. It’s mainly effectively communicating your business and what you want to do.”

The competition will be held April 6 at 9 a.m. in the Udvar-Hazy room 220. Students interested in competing can download the full rules and entry requirements at opportunityquest.org