6 minute read

The AU Shark Tank

MBA students merge their education into a final business plan

| Deborah Lilly |

After two years of juggling academic work, a full-time job, and often, a family, Anderson University MBA students were on the cusp of graduation. Before they took their final class, they had one big project left to complete. This project required all of the resources they learned in their quest for an MBA, and it could very well determine their future. Their goal was to create a business plan to catch the interest of investors.

The project is an ongoing part of the program’s next-to-last class Competition and Strategy. The competition was added to the curriculum in 2011 thanks to a Falls Departmental Initiative Grant. Dr. Emmett Dulaney, professor of marketing at AU, oversees the cohorts during the 15-week class to ensure information shared is consistent among their MBA cohort locations — Anderson, Fishers, and Speedway.

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Either alone or in teams, students in each cohort develop a business plan. The first round of competition takes place within their cohorts, as they compete against other business plans with their instructors serving as judges. The final competition brings the winning team or individual from each of the cohorts to have their business plan judged by a panel of entrepreneurs from the Indianapolis area. The public is also welcome to attend.

While the idea of the competition is similar to the popular reality television show Shark Tank, this was the first year the competition used the Shark Tank theme. According to Dulaney, from the beginning of the MBA competition, students quickly associated it with a the television show, and since most people in the public were familiar with the concept of Shark Tank, it became an easy way to explain the competition and create excitement for potential audience members.

During an evening in April, a crowd of FSB professors and students, area business leaders, and the general public watched as three team finalists presented their ideas to the 2018 judging panel of Pete Bitar, CEO of XADS; Tammy Rimer, CEO of Element 212; Stan Horner, GM of Myers

Autoworld; and Bruce Kidd, former head of the Indiana Economic Development Council:

• Anderson cohort — business plan for a confined feed operation for hogs in Blackford County.

• Fishers cohort — a business plan for a consulting company to assist hospitals with issues concerning sterilized instruments.

• Speedway cohort — a business plan offering financial advising services to the underserved middle-class market. As a professor, what Dulaney enjoys the most about this competition is the enthusiasm behind each pitch. “They are all interesting ideas because there is always someone with a passion behind them,” he explained.

Not only was it an exciting night for Dr. Dulaney and the presenting MBA teams. Evan Dulaney BA ’18 was also approaching the end of his time at AU and preparing

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“As an entrepreneur, we have so many creative and innovative ideas but lack the fundamental business knowledge needed to thrive in a competitive marketplace. That’s how my MBA has been beneficial for me.”


to graduate with a bachelor’s degree. Evan minored in event planning, and his final project was to plan and execute this year’s business plan competition.

“Every few weeks, the faculty team and I would meet to work out what we wanted some aspect of the event to look like. For example, we met to decide whatwe wanted the venue to be and what we wanted to do for prizes,” Evan explained. “It was my job to get those things done. Then we would meet again, I’d go over what I had done, and we’d start over on another aspect of the night.”

Finally, the night arrived, and at the end of the evening, the Anderson cohort team members each earned the judges’ nod along with a 5-ounce silver bar in a display box unique to the AU competition.

Dr. Dulaney added, “All three of the competing teams this year are actually following through with their businesses. That is unusual.”

Winning the business plan competition isn’t the only benefit of the Competition and Strategy class. The course focuses on researching, writing, and getting advice from

business faculty to determine if an idea is viable, Dr. Dulaney explained. That process may be more important than winning the competition, and teams or individuals from past competitions have used the feedback they received to better their business plans and continue forward with their businesses.

One such person is Sparkle Lockett MBA ’11. Her company, MakeUp By Sparkle, already existed when she began her MBA degree. She created MakeUp By Sparkle, “to meet a growing need of a quality cosmetics line for women of color.” When it came time for her to create a plan for her company, she said, “I hoped to gain the knowledge for writing a more effective business plan not only for my own vision and goals for the business but to have clear objectives to present to potential investors, employees, and functional business partners.”

Lockett’s company has continued to succeed since her time at AU. “As an entrepreneur, we have so many creative and innovative ideas but lack the fundamental business knowledge needed to thrive in a competitive marketplace. That’s how my MBA has been beneficial for me,” she explained.

Kerra Armstrong BA ‘08, who shared in the Anderson cohort’s success this spring, first attempted to write a business plan for a confined feeding operation for pigs while she was an undergraduate student.

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Both Armstrong and her husband grew up on farms. Farming is, in fact, a family tradition on both sides, with their grandparents making their living farming as well. Today Kerra and her husband farm with his family and hope to develop their own farming operation to pass along to their two sons, now ages 7 and 3.

Armstrong believes diversification is necessary to have a sustainable income in farming. She explained when the price of crops goes down, the trend is for the price of livestock to rise, and vica versa. So to add diversity to their farm, the couple hopes to add a confined feeding operation to Armstrong Family Farms, which would allow them to contract with food companies for a salaried income over the course of the contract.

Since Armstrong wrote her first business plan, both technology and regulations have changed, so it was due for an update. She was grateful for her other four team members who took on different aspects of the plan: Lauren Mowrey, marketing; Pete Heuer, compliance and regulations; Kris Jones, financing, business flow, and profitability; and Duane DeTar, facilities.

For Armstrong and her husband, farming is more than a business. It is another way to share life lessons with their sons. She wants them to understand how farming works and see it as a responsibility to provide food for other people. “It’s hard work. There are a lot of sleepless nights, but

“[Farming is] hard work. There are a lot of sleepless nights, but there is also a lot of joy. You really have to put your faith in God.”

there is also a lot of joy,” said Armstrong. “You really have to put your faith in God.”

Armstrong and her family still have a lot of work to do before fully realizing their plan of a confined feeding operation, but thanks to her team’s business plan, they are one step closer.


Evan Dulaney will also be able to use his experience planning this year’s competition as a step toward his career goal. He will be attending IUPUI this fall to study for a master’s degree in museum studies.

“History has always been a passion for me,” he explained. “I plan to become a museum curator — the person in charge of the artifacts but also the jack-of-all-trades at smaller institutions. Museums, like any not-for-profit institution, constantly have to fundraise and have events to keep the public interested. The business plan competition and my event planning minor have given me the skills to put on a successful event, from the months of planning to the frantic few minutes beforehand. I’m incredibly thankful to AU and the FSB for giving me ... a real-world project for practical experience.”

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