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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 7, 2002

Business plan competitions attract local entrepreneurs

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Just three years ago, there were relatively few opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs in Hawai'i to test whether their business plans had the wherewithall to make it in the real world.

Business competitions scheduled

• Hawaii Health Care Business Incubator's Business Plan Competition

Open to teams that have at least one member who is a resident of Hawai'i and have an idea for a product or service that is healthcare related. Entry forms are due by April 15. Submissions are due by April 30. The competition offers over $35,000 in cash, service and product prizes to winners and runners-up. Information:


Already under way:

• Fusion-2002 — Hawaii's New Venture Showcase

Fusion-2002, which concludes in June, offers $100,000 in cash and services. The competition includes Mainland and Asian venture experts to help the teams. The deadline for registration was March 31. www.fusion-2002.com

• University of Hawai'i's annual business plan competition

UH's competition concludes May 11 with a share of $50,000 in prizes. Teams are required to include one UH student. The business ideas of 46 teams have already been whittled down to 28 semifinalists.

• Wayne Brown Institute's Investors Choice International Equity Capital Conference

The deadline for presenting company submissions was April 1, with the conference scheduled for June 19-20 on Maui.

Now there are suddenly several, part of a growing trend of increasing business plan competitions around the country.

And while some say there now may be a few too many competitions for the market, they also offer hope that entrepreneurs could help re-energize Hawai'i's sluggish economy.

"It's fabulous that there are new options for entrepreneurs in Hawai'i," said Lisa LaBonte, president of Pacific Business Forums.

Pacific Business Forums is putting on one of those business plans competitions: the new Fusion-2002 — Hawaii's New Venture Showcase.

"It's about creating new ventures in the market because the economy is in such bad shape," LaBonte said. "That's how economies grow."

In addition to Fusion-2002, the UH Business Plan Competition is also under way, as well as the Hawaii Health Care Business Incubator's Business Plan Competition.

And then in June, the Wayne Brown Institute also is holding its Investors Choice International Equity Capital Conference on Maui, where companies can apply to present business proposals to investors.

All of the competitions offer prize money and service, as well as the chance to attract investors and create a new business out of just an idea.

"There's a sense that the economy needs to be more diversified than it currently is and that means startups in general," said Rob Robinson, executive director of the Pacific Asian Center for Entrepreneurship and E-Business, which puts on UH's competition. "These competitions give entrepreneurs a chance to have their work evaluated by more than one group of people."

But Robinson and LaBonte disagree about whether Hawai'i has room for any more competitions.

"I wish there were eight," LaBonte said.

But Robinson believes "we may be overreaching with four."

"What will happen is that we will have to have some consolidation or organization as time goes on," Robinson said. "Maybe we'll have specialized competitions for health care or other areas."

While Robinson is excited about the competitions, he's also watching to see how they evolve.

"There's already a certain amount of overlap," he said. "We get healthcare plans that could be applied to (the healthcare) Incubator contest. That's not a bad thing. But we need to avoid too much duplication."

But the real danger may be stressing the amount of venture capital in the market, Robinson said.

"You're not going to discourage entrepreneurs," he said. "The major question is: Can you get enough sponsorship for these things?"

Still, some say the lessons for entrepreneurs are invaluable.

The competitions "teach curious people the discipline, the techniques, to conceive, define and present an entrepreneurial proposal," said Mike Fitzgerald, president and CEO of Enterprise Honolulu, formerly the O'ahu Economic Development Board. "They expose these aspiring entrepreneurs to experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.

"It gives them some models of success and mentors. It gives them some tutelege."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.