Business unusual


Twenty students dressed in business attire entered a Charles M. Harper Center classroom in a steady stream, walking purposefully and carrying folders. They murmured to one another as they took their places up front. Some passed materials to the judges, a group of Goldman Sachs representatives who were already seated. Others mingled with the audience—mostly smiling parents.

The students who presented business plans Monday were not MBA candidates. They were Chicago Public Schools juniors and seniors, and the presentations were the culmination of an Elements of Entrepreneurship course offered by the Collegiate Scholars Program and sponsored by the Goldman Sachs Foundation. Professor Waverly Deutsch, who taught the two-week course, told the judges and parents that what they were about to see was “better than the first round of my MBA students' business-plan presentations. For sure.”

The presentations were polished—students introduced the germ of a business idea, proof that their idea would have a market, and financial projections for at least the first fiscal year. Presenting in groups of four, they used PowerPoint slides to exhibit their message and defended themselves against tough questions from the ten-person panel (which included five U of C alumni, from the College and the GSB).

First was WRAP (Writing, Reading, Arts, Politics). The project, a nonprofit magazine and after-school program, would provide a forum for students to discuss and write about issues pertaining to their lives and communities. Next came uGo, a campus bike-rental service; Super Squad, a handyman and companion service for the elderly that would hire only honor-roll students with a community-service background; and Third Degree, a college search and networking Web site for high-school students. The final group presented All Star Athletic Productions (ASAP), which would film and edit videos for high-school athletes looking to be recruited by colleges. Presenter Cory Wilkins, a soccer player, noted that when he had asked his mother to shoot a highlight reel, “there were really no highlights there," just shaky footage of grass and sky.

In deliberation, open to the audience but not the teams, the judges were initially torn—both Super Squad and ASAP had presented financially feasible plans with what the judges considered a large potential for market growth. But after more than 30 minutes, they deemed ASAP the winner. The four students in the group, beaming broadly, celebrated their victory by shaking hands with Professor Deutsch—and each accepted an HP laptop computer, the surprise prize for winning the competition.

Rose Schapiro, '09

Photo: ASAP presents its plan.

August 6, 2008