Sponsoring business plan competitions has proven a great way for venture capital firms to do some good for graduate students, generate positive PR, and discover budding entrepreneurs. Now positive PR-starved LBO shops are discovering the virtues of such contests as well.
Late last month,
In a press release Knox Lawrence said the “winning team will be considered for additional seed financing.” Winning team member Tony Gross seemed game. “We’re looking forward to that next check, and moving to Mozambique,” he said, delivering the acceptance speech on behalf of his group. The company’s proposed name: Mozergy.
Knox Lawrence launched the competition this summer, inviting first-year and second-year MBA students to develop business plans along the theme, “Microfinance in Sub Saharan Africa.” It promoted the competition at some 12 to 15 business schools across the country, according to Kenneth Globerman, chairperson of the competition and a vice president at Knox Lawrence. About a dozen teams submitted entries, and the seven-member panel of judges eventually narrowed it down to three finalists, who delivered presentations on Friday.
The team from Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley was awarded the second prize of $3,000. Their business plan involved setting up a network of micro-lenders in Africa to enable the compilation of data, which could then be used by outside creditors to assess the transaction history and credit-worthiness of micro-lenders. The plan also involved enabling borrowers to conduct transactions via cell phone, a move that would help micro-lenders cut costs and charge lower interest rates.
The team from Columbia Business School (third place, $2,000) proposed starting an electric utility company to provide seller-financed solar panels to Africans living in rural areas. In some locations only 2 percent of the population has electricity in their homes, and many of those that do have it find the service unreliable, the team said.
Based in New York, Knox Lawrence acquires IT services, energy services and other services companies. Its two managing principals, Nana Baffour and Johnson M. Kachidza, grew up in Africa.