Venturing for Success

UM Venture Launch Weekend educates new, future business owners

UM students Niyoko Brock (left) and Prahar Patel claimed first place at the recent Venture Launch Weekend entrepreneurial development program. They received prizes and automatic placement into the second round of the university’s Edwin C. Gillespie Business Plan Competition later this semester. Photo courtesy Mabus Agency

OXFORD, Miss. – Venture Launch Weekend landed with success recently at the University of Mississippi, as more than two dozen people competed in the entrepreneurial development program.

Held at various sites on the Ole Miss campus Feb. 8-10, the event featured 27 participants from the UM and local community forming development teams and pitching business ideas. The program was founded on the idea of connecting entrepreneurs with local resources to help them develop business plans.

During the weekend, six teams heard from business development speakers on topics such as social media marketing and intellectual property protection, and then implemented these concepts into a business model with the assistance of an assigned business coach. The final day of the weekend featured teams competing as they pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges consisting of local business leaders.

First place was claimed by a team of UM students: Niyoko Brock, a senior business management major from Laurel, and Prahar Patel, a junior biology and management information systems major from Madison. Patel is the founder of EZHome Automation, a smart home technology and automation startup that provides, installs and customizes smart-home features such as security systems, thermostats, lighting, multimedia devices and more.

The team received a trophy, gift bags and automatic placement into the second round of the university’s Edwin C. Gillespie Business Plan Competition, where they will compete this semester for prizes worth up to $20,000.

“Venture Launch Weekend was a great experience,” Patel said. “It provided me the opportunity to gain advice and hands-on help with professionals and other skilled individuals.

“EZHome Automation is something that I am so passionate about, and I am glad I could share my ideas and get advice on how to better grow and develop my business.”

The second- and third-place teams also consisted of Ole Miss students.

Participants at Venture Launch Weekend, an entrepreneurial development program held at the University of Mississippi, listen to a point being made during the presentaitons. Photo courtesy Mabus Agency

“Venture Launch Weekend was a very special opportunity for local entrepreneurs and students to hear from real-world experts on matters that directly impact the growth and sustainability of their businesses,” said Allen Kurr, vice president of the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation. “We look forward to supporting each entrepreneur as they continue to grow their businesses.”

While some attendees arrived with business concepts in the early stages, with intentions of improving them, such as Patel, others entered with new ideas or just for the entrepreneurial experience, said William Nicholas, UM director of economic development.

“The idea is to strengthen early-stage startups needing help and to vet the new ideas to determine if they are viable and sustainable,” he said. “We rely on eager, hardworking participants and a generous donation of time from our coaches and judges. The organizers all agreed that this was our best year so far.”

The event was sponsored by the university, the Oxford-Lafayette County Economic Development Foundation, the Mabus Agency, Insight Park and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UM School of Business Administration.

“This year’s Venture Launch Weekend was … a wonderful opportunity to step into an event with such a wonderful legacy,” said Josh Mabus, president of the Mabus Agency, a Tupelo-based marketing and advertising agency. “Our six teams amazed me as they took ideas from genesis to truly compelling business pitches.

“We saw entrepreneurs who didn’t know each other before this weekend band together and make some truly awe-inspiring progress. These are the seeds that will grow into businesses, enhancing our community and state.”