They have four minutes to set up, 20 minutes to present, and 10 minutes of questioning from a double row of judges seated at the front of a windowless room in Chicago's McCormick Place conference center. It's the 2007 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, and the six finalists are competing for a first place prize of more than $100,000 in cash and business products and services. The competitors' primary challenge is packaging their entire business and the motivations behind it into a comprehensive presentation, their only weapons being what they have accomplished and where they're going.
As a spectator at the event, presented by the Entrepreneurs' Organization in partnership with Mercedes-Benz Financial, I can't help but feel nervous for these competitors--all students. What must it feel like to be one of the six finalists, narrowed down from 750 nominees worldwide and--earlier that day--23 semifinalists representing six different countries? I think about how slowly the time must tick by before they reach the final moment when they step in front of a panel of 19 distinguished judges. But one after another, they take center stage with unwavering composure; their voices don't shake but brim with confidence and passion as they present the intricacies of the sophisticated businesses they've built from the ground up. These businesses range from New York City-based Three Guys and a Girl, which manufactures, markets and sells two clothing lines and has 2008 projected sales of $1.5 million, to TicketGold, a ticket brokerage company in Edmonton, Alberta, which was started with a single credit card in 2003 and has seen a 739 percent annual growth rate ever since. The competition is fierce.
So what did it take to snatch the first place prize, and who pulled off such a feat? Mix the unrestrained ambition of a teenager, the calculating skills of an accounting student and the goodness of granny's age-old recipes and you've got the key components of winner Fraser Doherty's flagship product, SuperJam. Doherty, a student at The University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, may only be 19 years old, but he has plenty of experience under his belt. At 14, he started making jam in his kitchen and selling his tasty concoctions at local shops and farmers markets. But as Doherty grew up, so did his business. In March 2007, after extensive work developing the brand and finding the right factory, Doherty convinced store buyers at Scotland's Waitrose supermarkets of the value of his products and secured shelf space for his all-natural fruit jams in 130 of the company's locations.
Now the product is flying off shelves in more than 600 supermarkets in the United Kingdom, and Doherty--aka "Jam Boy"--is single-handedly revitalizing Scotland's dying jam industry. "It's all about having the right attitude and going into business looking for an adventure," says Doherty. "It's a huge learning opportunity and a lot of fun; it's best to start out looking at it from that perspective and seeing where it takes you." With plans to expand throughout the European Union, Australia, Japan and North America and 2008 revenue projected to hit approximately $3 million, it looks as if Doherty's venture will be taking him around the world.
Want to compete? "Show as much of yourself as possible because what we're really judging here is the entrepreneur, not just the business," says Jade Bourelle, chair of the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards. "We're looking for personality, leadership characteristics and charisma as much as we're looking for what the business is accomplishing." For more on the 2008 competition, visit gsea.org.