The 2010 winner was Hailey Coleman’s Damn Heels. Photo: Lindsay Boeckl

A little start-up cash

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By Colleen Marasigan

The annual Slaight Communications $25,000 Business Plan Competition is fast approaching at Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone (DMZ).

The competition, a decade strong, is put on by StartMeUp Ryerson and Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE) Ryerson and will be taking place on March 26. It’s a way to assist entrepreneurs in developing their businesses by providing funds to get it started.

According to Ian Casterton, StartMeUp Ryerson’s executive director, the competition aims to help students graduate with a degree in one hand and a business registration in the other. Out of this year’s 32 submissions, the top five finalists will continue on to present before a panel of three judges at the live event.

The first-round of companies are chosen by a professor and investor. In the final round, each finalist is required to present a 10-minute proposal, followed by a five-minute question period.

“[The judges are] looking for feasibility — that this business plan will succeed and that the $25,000 will have a large impact on the company,” Casterton said. “During the pitch and final competition, the judges make sure these entrepreneurs know what they’re talking about and have the confidence to start a business and a passion and a drive to make sure it succeeds.”

The panel of judges consists of “serial entrepreneur” Shayan Mashatian, Virox Technologies founder Randy Pilon and Rick Spence, the president of CanEntrepreneur Communications.

This year’s businesses are at various stages, some coming into the competition with only ideas, some coming in with actual sales. Nehal Kazim, a fourth-year entrepreneurship student, CEO of Professor Pass, an adaptive learning platform, says he knows his company has what it takes to stand out.

Professor Pass is an online platform that offers live, course specific tutoring for students in the Toronto area, and aims to assist students who are falling behind.

“It’s different because everyone is in different fields. The challenge that we’ve accepted [with Professor Pass] is that we understand the education space is very competitive and segmented,” Kazim says.

Kazim said the quality of Professor Pass also has an increased speed for implementation after moving into the DMZ and gathering some support from the Business Advisory Board.

“We have to step up to the plate and give high quality content or people will simply ignore us,” he said. Similarly, Widget Animation, a company focusing on stop motion created by third-year marketing major Tyler Baird and his brother Ashley, will be taking its chances in the competition this year.

“I think it’s a pretty solid business plan,” Baird said. “We structured it out fairly well, but there’s fairly high competition. There’s a lot of good business plans out there. So you never know.”

Hailey Coleman was the 2010 winner in the competition.

“It was obvious they were looking for a very solid business plan and a very solid presentation,” she said.

Coleman, founder of Damn Heels (fold-up ballet flats to help make an easy switch from wearing heels), is now two years into her business and she has the competition to thank for that.

“I think it would be a huge disadvantage for students [if this competition didn’t exist]. It really allows you to flesh out the idea,” Coleman said. “Whether you win the money or not, you have that idea fleshed out. It’s a really good opportunity to grow your business, to grow your idea, and to grow your dream.”

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