Ball State University “Enterprise Creation Competition” Becomes The “Nascent 500”

    Ball State University’s Miller College of Business Entrepreneurship Center recently dropped the “Enterprise Creation Competition” name they’d been using for their business plan competition for the last decade – in favor of something with a little more pizzazz.

    “How can we stand out from the dozens of other competitions around the country?” organizers must have thought to themselves. “Our university is just an hour from one of the most famous auto races in the world. Let’s give our competition an Indianapolis 500 theme. Everything will have to fit with 500.” So, starting with the 2006-07 contest, Ball State’s “Enterprise Creation Competition” became the “Nascent 500”.

    Most business competitions hosted by universities are restricted to students of the business schools, or at the very least, the universities themselves. Ball State takes a different approach in that it seeks competitors from other universities, all over the country. Each university may choose one team with a faculty advisor to enter the contest. Potential businesses must be the work of students and must be new venture start-ups rather than expansions of existing enterprises.

    Based on a 500-word paper describing the plan, 12 winning teams (or “qualifiers” in Nascent 500 terms) from these various universities are chosen in February to travel to Indianapolis for the “big race” in March. On race day, the 12 teams are divided into four groups of three. Each group slowly travels in a limousine around the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and each team is given 500 seconds or one lap in the limo to impress the judges with their business plan pitches. Afterward, the teams each have 500 seconds in the “pits” along the side of the track to respond to questions from the judges.

    From each of these four limousine groups, the judge selects one team to head to the “Homestretch.” (With “500 Apologies to the eight teams who will not pass on to the final round” as the event description on Ball State’s web site so cleverly puts it.) The last round takes place in the media suite overlooking Gasoline Alley and consists of a more formal business plan description lasting a maximum of 15 minutes.

    After the judges confer, the winners are announced in a track-side ceremony, where they receive their $10,000 prize and are taken for a “victory lap” around the Indy 500 track at a much higher speed than their previous 8½-minute journey. The other three finalists are also ranked, with the second-place team taking home $5,000, third getting $2,500, and fourth receiving $1,000.