Tomorrow's entrepreneurs showed their stuff Wednesday during Northwest Missouri State University's 2013 New Venture Pitch Competition.
Teams of students spent much of the day presenting business plans for a wide range of enterprises to groups of judges that included CEOs, bankers, public relations professionals, attorneys, realtors and economic development specialists from across the region.
One of the judges was Brock Pfost, who owns White Cloud Engineering, a Maryville-based civil engineering and construction company.
Pfost said the most engaging aspect of the competition for him was watching real-world business practices collide with ideas based on classroom theory.
It was not a one-way exchange.
"From a selfish perspective, I thought it was interesting to see what business people can learn from youth, from our next generation of entrepreneurs," he said.
Pfost said all five presentations he listened to during the morning session proposed ventures heavily dependent on both technology and advanced concepts related to time and labor management.
It was obvious, he said, that Northwest instructors are seeking to prepare students for the kind of business challenges that loom in the future, and not just those that exist in today's economy.
One of the proposals included plans for developing remote home security systems based on smart phone technology. Another advanced the use of "smart scanning" devices capable of replacing traditional tickets at sporting events and other large gatherings.
The keynote speaker at this year's contest was Northwest alumnus Brian Weaver, who started his career nearly 20 years ago as the youngest retail sales representative ever hired by the Kansas City Star newspaper — and the first to use a computer, having bought his own.
After dramatically increasing sales in a couple of territories, Weaver said he was passed over promotion in favor of someone with more experience, a management decision that convinced him it was time to move on.
He soon became a successful sales director for a Florida-based publishing company that nevertheless reprimanded him for "moving in the wrong direction" by developing custom media products for NASCAR.
After this second setback, Weaver decided to strike out on his own, founding Anthem Media Group, an organization that was soon producing more than 350 million pages of content for every major speedway in the United States.
Eventually Anthem expanded from its Overland Park, Kan., base and purchased the Miami publishing firm that had written him up.
In retrospect, Weaver said he probably encountered frustrations while trying to navigate the traditional corporate fast track because he was too "fidgety" working for others.
"If you really want to do it, there is just something inside you that makes you think about being a business owner and an entrepreneur," he said.
Today, the Anthem group of companies provides marketing and media services for a host of gold-edged clients, including Microsoft, NASCAR, Ferrari, GE, Anheuser Busch, Geico and others. Most recently, Anthem was named to Inc. 500s list of Fastest Growing Companies for 2012.
Page 2 of 2 - Ending his talk with a quick list of tips for would-be entrepreneurs, Weaver told students to dream big and "fake it 'till you make it."
He also urged would-be business stars to embrace their inner geek by learning the technical details about their chosen enterprise and mastering the nuts and bolts of accounting.
Other lessons Weaver said he has learned during his career included working to create a stable family life, establishing a customer base affluent enough to support your business and knowing when to back away and cut your losses.
"It's always best if you can make the best decisions when you have the least amount of money," he said.