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Skidmore College

A transformational entrepreneurial experience

March 29, 2018
by Sara Miga '08

Foster creativity across all disciplines. Fuel entrepreneurial passions. Open doors through connections and mentorship. Founded in 2010, the Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition (Freirich) is a dynamic and impactful learning opportunity for Skidmore students. 

Whether as a team or individually, dozens of students participate each year in the competition by first conceptualizing and writing an enticing business plan and then pitching it to a panel of expert judges in the hopes that their venture is selected to receive startup funding.

Inspired by the potential of their own big ideas, students gain unparalleled experience in everything from financing and product development, to intellectual property protection, market research, brand development and more.

As students, mentors and judges prepare for the finals of the eighth annual competition on April 6, here are a few things to know.

Six things to know about the Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition

Ken Freirich '90
Ken Freirich '90 applauds the work of Freirich finalists

1. Alumni make it happen

The competition was founded by a Skidmore alumnus and entrepreneur, Ken Freirich ’90. Today, he’s president of Health Monitor Network, a thriving company that has grown fivefold over the past 10 years. But 30 years ago, he was fueling his entrepreneurial passions at Skidmore. He even founded his first business on campus—a magazine for college students that was distributed across 35 campuses in three states.

In addition to the competition’s namesake, many successful alumni have given generously to help fund the competition and/or volunteered as judges for the competition’s semi-finals and finals. Semi-final judges not only select the final competitors, they also become mentors, working with students to refine their business plans and sharpen their presentations for the final round. A different set of judges hear and evaluate the final presentations. 

"When you challenge yourself beyond your confidence level, that's when you really grow and learn. When you start to succeed and hit one home run, that's when you see that the possibilities are endless." —Ken Freirich '90

2. Business plans are out of the box

More than half of all students who enter the competition major in areas other than management and business. This diversity of thought and experience yields both for-profit business plans and social entrepreneurship ventures. This year, finalists include a business that teaches literacy skills to children in orphanages in Mozambique and another that brews kombucha, a fermented tea drink, produced with raw honey. 

3. The prizes are big

Winning teams are awarded cash prizes and business services valued at a grand total of $52,500. The prizes are $20,000 for first place, $10,000 for second, $5,000 for third and $2,500 for fourth. An additional $15,000 in business services is awarded to the three top teams.

4. Competition is real

More than 350 students and 225 businesses have entered the contest to date. This year, 15 teams competed in the semi-finals, nine made the cut for the finals, and only four will receive cash prizes. With participation open to any student, no matter their discipline, creative ideas are plentiful and competition is guaranteed. Now in its eighth year, Freirich is one of the preeminent business competitions among liberal arts colleges nationally. Along with many other entrepreneurial opportunities, it's no small part of Skidmore achieving the No. 7 spot on Forbes' list of America's Most Entrepreneurial Colleges.

Freirich Business Plan Competition Alexander Nasseif ’16
Alexander Nasseif ’16 presents his business plan for Rum Dogs to the Freirich judges

 5. Sometimes, third (or fourth) time is the charm

Student entrepreneurs are encouraged to come back and compete each year as they develop their businesses ... and the approach often pays off. Students learn the time and energy it truly takes to build a business from the ground up.

Perhaps no one knows the value of persistence better than Alexander Nasseif '16, whose vision was to produce premium underwater-aged rum. Nasseif placed second in 2013 and 2014, fourth in 2015 and then finally won first place his senior year in 2016. Today, his company, Rum Dogs, has growing sales in the Eastern Caribbean, buoying the company to triple its product pipeline inventory.

This year, three finalists are returning competitors, including a team of three seniors who created AuxNation, a mobile app that connects DJs with their audiences.

6. Skidmore startups are succeeding

What happens after the competition ends? For many, the biggest takeaway is the business writing, planning and presentation skills that will serve them in future careers. Others take the leap to launch their businesses in the real world. Case in point: Weston Stewart-Tennes '17. After earning first place in 2017, Stewart-Tennes took his Fries First food truck to the streets and has been changing the way Los Angeles customers enjoy French fries. Fries First throws in ingredients and flavors from a variety of countries and geographical areas (think bold, spicy Korean fries and fresh and crisp Greek fries). Stewart-Tennes recently added sliders to the menu, and now he's set his sights beyond his food truck to opening a retail establishment.

Freirich business plan Weston Stewart-Tennes ’17
Weston Stewart-Tennes '17 is named the 2017 winner of Freirich with his food truck business, Fries First

In their own words

At the intersection of academics and real-world skill-building, the Kenneth A. Freirich Business Plan Competition is a multi-dimensional learning opportunity best summed up by those who participate. Here are some thoughts by people involved with the competition:

“This is an opportunity for our students to find parts of themselves that they never would have found. They’re given an outlet to go after what they believe in … every year it’s simply amazing what they accomplish.” —Roy Rotheim, professor of economics and competition coordinator 

“No matter who you are, this is an opportunity to turn creative thought into creative action … and that’s what makes it powerfully unique.” —Kelsey Yam ’13, Soccer without Borders

“While the endgame involves winning the competition, the process is an academic exercise involving creativity, problem-solving ability, critical thinking skills and both a micro- and macro-perspective of the human dilemma and the world around us.” —Tim Harper, associate professor and chair of management and business 

“I really think of my business as a product of this competition. I was in it for four years, had four years of feedback and luckily four years of funding. Our trajectory wouldn’t be possible without the invaluable advice and platform this gave us.” —Alexander Nassief ’16, Rum Dogs  

"Being an entrepreneur means one thing: you find ways to make things happen. Whether our students win or lose this competition, they acquire skills in the process that will help them for the rest of their lives." — Ken Freirich

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