Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2007Kellogg School of Management
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Kellogg Cup
Laura Bronner '06, founder of HangNails salon, poses with the Kellogg Cup, which she won in 2006 for her outstanding business plan. Judges (from left) Clement Erbmann '75, Chris Long and Malcolm Lotzoff appear with Bronner, Professor Barry Merkin and Scott Whitaker '97.  Photo © Rich Foreman

Put to the test

Kellogg Cup brings faculty, students and alumni together for entrepreneurship contest

By Adrienne Murrill

For Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship Barry Merkin, the Kellogg Cup is one of the most rewarding events in which he participates as a teacher.

The Kellogg School's formal business plan competition, held each spring, expands student understanding of what today's new venture process demands. Merkin says the Kellogg Cup was established in 2005 to meet the increasing popularity of entrepreneurship in the curriculum.

"Business plan competitions started at Kellogg in 1992," Merkin says. "Since then, more than 75 percent of students now take at least one entrepreneurship course, 12 professors teach in the area, 29 courses qualify for the major and about 50 business plans are written and presented each year." He says this activity has greatly increased both the number of teams eager to compete and raised the level of excellence needed to succeed. 

The majority of participants are enrolled in the Entrepreneurship and New Venture Formulation course, an offering the school introduced in 1974. Though designed to provide special value for those pursuing entrepreneurship, the course is open to all second-year students. "The workload and level of competition has increased each year, and the 2007 Kellogg Cup will be comprised almost entirely of students who have taken the course," he explains.  

Scott Whitaker '97, associate director of the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice, assists Merkin with the competition. Whitaker says the classroom work is key for participants: "Over 10 weeks they are going through the preparation, synthesis, presentation and organization of their materials. The coursework leads to a level of excellence and helps to create a foundation for entrepreneurs."

Merkin and Whitaker say the Kellogg Cup demands mastery of skills in research, synthesis, persuasion, presentation and more. "Success in the real world of entrepreneurship requires the ability to be an expert communicator," Merkin says, which is why participants must be able to make an impact and be concise and analytical in their written and oral presentations. 

"Students who do well at the Kellogg Cup have taken their performance and their presentation skills to a level beyond other Kellogg students," Whitaker notes.

Ari Ackerman '99 is one such student. He brought his Kellogg Cup experience to fruition with Bunk1, a multifaceted company whose primary goal is to link summer camp participants with their parents via e-mail and photos. The company, which serves more than 1,000 camps, grew out of Ackerman's fondness for the outdoors, as well as his interest in technology.

More recently, the class helped launch a venture created by Andrew Youn '06. The One Acre Fund, a nonprofit aimed at reducing starvation in Africa, began last year by helping 40 farming families quadruple their crop yield. The goal now is to increase the mission's scope to 250 families. One Acre has received significant financial grants from major foundations as well as from Kellogg alumni and students.

The Kellogg Cup is also remarkable for its relationship with alumni. Many of the competition's 25 judges are Kellogg graduates, and "each is an entrepreneurial expert drawn from the ranks of angels, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs," Merkin says. Alumni involvement is a result of their eagerness to give back and continue their involvement in Kellogg and education, he says. "Perhaps most important is the desire to be in touch with tomorrow's entrepreneurs to stay current on trends."

For Merkin, however, the Kellogg Cup is important for several reasons. "The American economy relies on entrepreneurship and small business, and the chances of entrepreneurial success are significantly increased by diligent, analytical and disciplined planning," he says. Because students become more adept at this process by participation in the Kellogg Cup, it is hard to imagine a more gratifying activity as a teacher."
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