By Cliff Ennico
As my readers know, twice a year I am a judge in the Connecticut Business Plan Competition (www.entrepreneurshipfoundation.org/contest.html), where students from business schools and undergraduate business programs throughout Connecticut compete for cash prizes and mentoring from leading business experts, in a format very similar to the popular “SharkTank” television show.
This fall’s event featured 12 teams from throughout the state. Here are some of the ideas the students came up with, and my own “judge’s notes” describing their strengths and weaknesses.
Concept # 1: A mobile smartphone application (“app”) to help people from India who are resident in the United States find “Bollywood” movies in theaters closest to where they live.
Strengths: There are approximately 4 to 5 million Indian expatriates in the United States, most of whom are fanatical about Bollywood movies. There are also approximately 300 Bollywood movie studios grinding out 1,200 movies a year looking to reach these customers. Amazingly, there are currently no websites or “apps” filling this need.
Weaknesses: Getting information from local theatres around the country offering Bollywood movies will be difficult and time-consuming. Also, keeping content and information about new movies current will be extremely labor-intensive with so many new movies coming out each year.
Concept # 2: A free online music service where unknown musicians can post their music and receive ratings from other musicians and the public at large.
Strengths: Musicians who don’t have recording contracts have always had a tough time connecting with their audiences. Social media is a perfect tool to connect musicians with music lovers, as evidenced by successful music sharing sites such as Spotify. By allowing customers to “rate” performers, unknown musicians can build fan followings and (perhaps) be visible to record companies.
Weaknesses: Without a really good search engine, it will be difficult for customers faced with thousands of unknown artists to pick the ones they like. There needs to be in each artist’s description a sentence such as “this artist is for people who like Bob Dylan, Bon Iver and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.” Also, since by definition unknown artists have no money and fans will not pay good money to listen to artists they don’t know, generating revenue for this business will be difficult. Perhaps they should get a percentage of the artist’s “publishing rights?” Hey, just a thought . . .
Concept # 3: A mobile smartphone app where travelers on interstate highways can order food in advance from “rest stops” along the way.
Strengths: People in a hurry don’t want to wait in long lines at rest stops, especially if they want food from different outlets requiring them to wait in multiple lines.
Weaknesses: Most rest stop food outlets are franchises: while they will be happy to accept mobile orders they won’t want to combine them with orders from other outlets at the rest stop (i.e. their competitors). What this business needs is a “kiosk” at each rest stop with people who can collect the orders from each outlet, combine them and then hand them to the customer when they pass through.
Concept # 4: A mobile smartphone app that helps restaurant owners find waiters and other staff on short notice if someone calls in sick or they are otherwise short-staffed on a busy night.
Strengths: Restaurant owners who are short on staff are desperate to get good help on short notice.
Weaknesses: Restaurant owners prefer to hire “short staff” who have previously worked at the restaurant, know the routine, the menu, and so forth, and most already have a list of such people for emergencies. It will be difficult to ensure that employees listed on the site will be available on an hour or less notice to work.
Concept # 5: A website that enables beer lovers to order craft “microbrews” from anywhere in the country by linking them directly to local retailers.
Strengths: Craft microbrews in general only circulate within a couple of hours’ drive from the brewery. Most will welcome the opportunity to get sales from remote customers (for example, people who grew up in the area where the brewery is located but now live elsewhere) at minimal cost.
Weaknesses: Working through retailers – and only those few that have federal shipping permits — will increase the cost to the customer. Company may need to obtain a liquor distributor’s license in some states.
Concept # 6: A GPS product you can stick on to any object so that you can track its location via your smartphone if it becomes lost, misplaced or stolen.
Strengths: Product is easy to use and has multiple markets: for example, people who suspect their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend are cheating on them can use these stickers to track their spouses’ whereabouts in real time 24/7.
Weaknesses: Stickers can easily be removed and placed on other objects. Also, the product doesn’t connect to law enforcement authorities so you still have to report your stolen property to police.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books.