When people think of the word “competition”, they likely picture sports, boxing matches, trivia games, and other similar situations of professionals battling head-to-head for a prize, trophy, or recognition of superiority. These competitions are the ultimate display of physical strength or mental talents.

However, let’s bring the battle back down a couple notches. A competition is simply defined as “…a contest or rivalry between individuals or groups to achieve a goal, win a prize, or prove superiority in a certain activity or skill.” When we put it this way, our mental image of a competition changes from the big leagues to include a simple, friendly performance that meets specific criteria. We know the champion of a spelling bee is the winning student who spelled the biggest and most complicated word correctly, and we know in a power lifting competition the winner lifted the most amount of weight out of everyone in the room. When we zoom out of these “winning final moments” that gather so much attention, we realize how much work and training goes into accomplishing these goals. We acknowledge how the spelling bee champion made flashcards every night and had family and friends quiz them throughout their free evenings and weekends. We see the power lifter training every day, slowly adding more and more plates to their bar with friends and coaches yelling their support. We know and understand the design and coordination of these competitions, the practice that the contests put in, the prizes they will win, and the esteem and recognition that follows.

In contrast, what does a competition for creativity and entrepreneurship look like? How do you practice for it? What is the mental and physical training required? How do you gather an audience and celebrate individuality and exceptionalism throughout the competition?

Through our innovation and entrepreneurship work at EdVenture, we’re connected to numerous competitions for innovation, entrepreneurship, and business start-ups annually, at local levels to state and nationwide. The broader public usually hears about these competitions to highlight what is referred to as “unicorns” in the entrepreneurship space. These are the high growth, high impact companies like AirBNB, Facebook, and Google that emerge to expose a small or unknown market niche and achieve a valuation over a billion dollars rapidly. Not super realistic for the average entrepreneur, but a dream, nonetheless.

If we bring this back to reality, we know that startups and entrepreneurs can have large and lasting impacts on their own local communities. The neighbor down the street who grew up fixing cars with their dad is a talented mechanic who could start their own body shop and save their small-town friends time and money from traveling to another city to get work done. 

The self-taught barista could open a local café and offer caffeinated beverages and sweet treats to all those lagging on a Thursday afternoon. We even can take this to a younger example of entrepreneurship. The teen next door can mow lawns around town to save up for a car and the little girl across the road could sell her hand-woven bracelets at the sandwich shop on the weekends.

So, how do we highlight these entrepreneurs in a competition?  The EdVenture Group has teamed up with the West Virginia Department of Education to remedy this, bringing to life SparkWV, a small business and big idea competition for middle and high school students across the state of WV. SparkWV is designed to walk students through each of the key components of a start-up by offering workshops, one-on-one coaching sessions, and feedback throughout judging each round. This competition helps craft the creative spirit through its two-pathway model, which separates small and easily launchable businesses (think the lawn care and bracelets mentioned earlier) from the big ideas (such as apps, inventions, and other concepts that would take a lot of testing and resources like money). This makes judging and competing easier for all involved. That way, you don’t end up comparing a brick-and-mortar storefront for a small town’s Main St. that could prosper locally to a new technology innovation that could take the world by storm in a few years. That’s like comparing apples to oranges.

SparkWV also breaks down the barriers of entry for students by not requiring them to launch the business immediately, which had previously been a large obstacle for students unsure about their plans post-graduation. We believe this will truly spark the entrepreneurial mindset that encourages students to view problems as opportunities to make innovative solutions and, ultimately, ignite their willingness to pursue entrepreneurship in the future.

5 tips for setting up an entrepreneurship competition for your students:

  • Learn student interests and skillsets so you can both challenge them to pursue them and stretch them to look beyond them.
    • If they can knit scarves, can they also make hats in custom patterns?
    • If they already stream their video games, can they start a YouTube channel to teach others?
  • Set clear objectives and guidelines but make them competitive and achievable.
    • We want to keep it fun, engaging, and encouraging! For instance, we’ll give you the resources + training to make sure you can complete this, but we’ll only accept the top five teams.
  • Offer mentorship and guidance, especially when getting down to the nitty-gritty details of how a business will make money (the most important part!).
  • Connect students to others if you believe they (and their ideas) would benefit from collaboration.
    • For example, marketing and design students might be able to team up with math and engineering students.
  • If they don’t have a passion area, skill, or big idea right away, get them brainstorming solutions to real-world problems they face every day.
    • What could they do or make to stop their favorite water bottle from leaking?

To learn more about EdVenture’s entrepreneurship and innovation programming, including SparkWV, visit our website here.

Meet the Author 

Cameron Keefe is a Program Coordinator with The EdVenture Group, where she works heavily in the entrepreneurship and innovation, leadership, career readiness, and workforce development space. She is the coordinator for SparkWV, a middle and high school business idea generation competition, and is on the WV FBLA Competitive Events Committee. Cameron is a 2022 WVU graduate, a passionate entrepreneur and prior WV Business Plan Competition winner, and is now heavily involved in the West Virginia Entrepreneurship Ecosystem.