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Alumni stories

Students and alumni improve their business savvy through Hawk Tank competition

A fledgling yerba mate tea company earned $5,000 in this year’s inaugural Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition, hosted by the School of Business Administration and the Alumni Engagement Office.

As a key part of the competition, the Durango community also had several opportunities to contribute to the event’s success, from becoming a sponsor to volunteering as a mentor.

“This is the Four Corners’ premier business plan competition,” says Michael Valdez, associate professor in the School of Business Administration. The annual competition is a prime opportunity for FLC students and recent alumni to formulate the steps from new business idea to storefront.

With all the curriculum provided throughout the competition, “You are going to have access to the material and resources to write your business plan,” says Valdez. “We are going to give you the mechanisms to be successful. Even if you don’t win, you’ve just taken your idea to the next level.”

This year’s Shark Tank-style competition finale took place on April 9, 2016. Alumnus Giancarlo Vigil (Economics, ’15) took home first place and $5000 prize money for his tea company, The Mate Exchange. Second place – and $2500 – went to Fields to Plate Produce, a small-scale farm, and SLED Outdoors took home the $1000 for third place.

To enable participants’ success, Fort Lewis College offered a series of educational opportunities throughout the semester leading up to the competition.

An informational Hawk Tank kick-off event was held in January. Subsequently, three business plan workshops were offered exclusively to participants leading up to the competition. In addition, every participating team had the opportunity to be partnered with a mentor in the Durango business community.

Creating a business plan is a pivotal stage of a business’s development. “It is a document that outlines, in its entirety, what a company is going to do,” says Valdez. “Why do you have the company? What is the sustainable, competitive edge of the organization? What is the executive team? What are your goods and services? How financially viable is the organization? And what are the action items to make the company happen? That’s what a business plan is all about.”

Furthermore, Valdez notes that a business’s potential funding sources – from venture capitalists to loan officers – will likely request a thorough business plan to ensure a strong chance at long-term success.

Slated to be an annual event, the Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition is open to current Fort Lewis College students and recent alumni who have graduated within five years in any major or field. “We want to set up both our SOBA and our non-SOBA students and alumni for success,” Valdez says.

Individuals and teams of up to five members are eligible to compete. “Only one person on a team has to be an alumnus or a student,” Valdez says. The Skyhawk just has to be the team leader. “Students and alumni may already have connections they want to work with. Go for it.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity to integrate the Durango community, as well,” he says. “We would like to get the community paired up with students or recent alumni. They can truly participate. They can be a part of it.”

Community members and alumni who are interested in contributing their expertise to next year’s Hawk Tank Business Plan Competition are welcome to contact Valdez through the competition website. The site also contains more details about entering the competition, as well as a complete schedule of events, relevant documents, sponsorship opportunities, and additional information.

“Learning to build a business plan is valuable because it is the exact process of seeing whether an idea actually translates to a viable business operation,” Valdez says. “We want to set up all participants for success – not only success here, in the competition, but success moving forward.”

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