Business plan competition hopes to lay tracks for sports industry cluster

The Center for Entrepreneurship hopes a sports/outdoor business plan competition puts foucs on growing a sports industry in Colorado Springs.

Eight college teams, including three from Colorado, are vying for $35,000 in cash prizes and a title of best sports/outdoor business plan.

The business plan competition is the brain child of Tom Duening, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs director of the Center for Entrepreneurship. He spent a year thinking about various business sectors and how the center could jump start what he calls an “industry cluster.” He kept coming back to sports as an encouraging business sector in Colorado Springs.

After all, he said, Colorado Springs is home to more than 25 sports governing bodies. Sports, he said, is not “a flash in the pan like, say, the semiconductor industry.”

“The USOC (U.S. Olympic Committee) is here, the outdoor scenery, that is something that will not change in the next 25 years,” Duening said. “We should take advantage of the fact that the athletes are here.”

The sports/outdoor business plan competition attracted college teams from California, Utah, Missouri, Michigan and North Carolina. Three Colorado teams, including two from UCCS, are competing. The business plans will be judged by a panel of six – people who are experienced entrepreneurs and investors, Duening said.

Most of the entries are products, Duening said. They are ideas that would fit into a sports industry cluster.

“We are delighted with the quality of entries,” Duening said.

Challenger Homes is a key sponsor, providing $20,000 for the first place prize. Other sponsors put up $15,000 to be divvied among the second, third and fourth place finishers.

The winner will be announced at a banquet Oct. 22 at Antlers Hilton Hotel.

Duening said he hopes the competition will grow and eventually lead to a competition among existing businesses.

The city’s Operation60ThirtyFive plan, released in 2009, lists sports and sports related industries in the top five major sectors to target for job growth in El Paso County.

And, it seems that sports and business is catching on with UCCS students. This fall, there is a dramatic spike in the number of students majoring in sports management, which is up 26.9 percent over last fall and PGA golf management, up 19.9 percent over last fall, said Venkat Reddy, dean of the UCCS College of Business and Administration.

But, building a sports industry cluster is about more than just the actual sports. It’s about all the businesses that support the sports, like apparel and manufacturing, Duening said.

“I think there is a real momentum for outdoors and sports related businesses with this branding process that is going on in Colorado Springs,” Duening said.

The Mayor’s Branding Task Force is working with a private firm to come up with a branding slogan for Colorado Springs. The group is working with key descriptions that say Colorado Springs is vibrant, exceptional and rugged. It’s a town, the task force, said, that is “alive.”

Other descriptions the task force is using are healthy, free-spirited lifestyle and the outdoorsy community. The character descriptions are part of building blocks that are expected to lead to the city’s much-anticipated slogan by year’s end.

Duening said Colorado Springs has the potential to leverage its comparative advantages –including the USOC and Pikes Peak — in the sports/outdoors industry. But, it will take some deliberate building on those existing organizations and location.

The sports/outdoor business plan competition should reveal some interesting business ideas, he said.

“For me, this is a test,” Duening said. “Can we as a community rally around this thing – I hope we can.”

  • For details about the UCCS Sports/Outdoor Business Plan Competition banquet call 255-3631.