Livingstone students to compete in business plan challenge

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 3, 2011

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
In today’s tough economic times, even savvy businessmen and women can have a rough time surviving.
So it goes without saying that sound business plans are a must.
On Friday in Atlanta, several Livingstone College students will compete in the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge, a competition sponsored by Walmart and Net Impact that provides a forum for students to showcase their best ideas and helps Walmart learn from some of the world’s brightest minds.
According to information on Net Impact’s website, the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge allows students to invent sustainable products or to develop sustainable business solutions that are presented to a panel of Walmart executives, suppliers and environmental organizations.
The finals of the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge will be held April 21-22 at Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Ark. Walmart provides travel funds for the finalist schools. The winning college or university walks away with bragging rights and a $20,000 prize.
“I think it’s a great idea because our students are going up against world-class competition,” said Dr. Colin Pillay, chairman of the business administration department at Livingstone College. “When you go up against first-class competition you perform better. I attended the American Economic Association conference in Denver in January where there were some professors from some of the top universities in the U.S. At the conference I had the opportunity to hear from Robert Schiller, a Yale economics professor who has been quoted by Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve.
“When you get a chance to understand the thought processes of some of the greatest thinkers in the world, that definitely improves your abilities as a professor,” Pillay continued. “So our students are going to have a similar experience. They will be much better students after they compete with some of the best in the world.”
During Friday’s regional competition in Atlanta, Livingstone College students will compete against their peers from Bellarmine University in Louisville, Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Duke University, Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Livingstone will also compete against itself because it has two teams in the regional competition.
“I think this is a way to get experience about how it’s going to be when I start working in corporate America,” said Winnie Chepchumba, a senior accounting major from Kenya in East Africa. “I’m doing the financials for the business plan we devised. It wasn’t really hard because I learned about doing financials in my accounting courses, so I’m just applying what I’ve learned in class.”
Chepchumba, an honors student and long-distance runner who routinely places in the top three in CIAA meets, said she’s nervous about competing but not because the schools may be larger or better known than Livingstone.
“The only thing I know is just because they’re a big school, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re smarter than us,” Chepchumba said. “I think we have a good chance to win because we have come together with the help of our professors, so I think we have everything as it should be.”
Pillay, who teaches business policy, international business, managerial economics, entrepreneurship and small business management at Livingstone College, and Dr. Harry Alston, assistant professor of business, are serving as advisors for the Livingstone students.
The professors have practiced with the students to ensure they’ll be well-prepared when it’s their time to compete on Friday. Teams will be given 15 minutes to present their business plans and 15 minutes for a question and answer period, Pillay said.
“The Walmart Challenge is a terrific opportunity for future business leaders to promote their innovative business ideas designed to change the world,” said Liz Maw, executive director of Net Impact.
Pillay said he’s excited about the competition.
“I’m feeling good about it,” Pillay said of Livingstone’s chances. “I think they have a good chance to win, but it all depends on how well they present at the competition.”
This is Livingstone College’s first time competing in the Walmart Better Living Business Plan Challenge. Livingstone is one of 50 participating schools. The University of Michigan won last year’s competition.
Besides Chepchumba, other participating Livingstone College students are: Steven Blaize, Rashida Elbourne, Caston Friday, Montiya Harrison, Raquez Moore, Chelson Perry, Darron Ponds and Derrick Tinsley.