Access Appalachian is the novel venture idea that my team developed in Dean Hershatter's Entrepreneurship class last fall. It is an adventure travel company offering novice hikers a complete package to hike the Appalachian Trail. We take care of all the logistical aspects of organizing a trip such as tour guides, equipment, food, transportation and even accommodations at local hotels. The purpose of our company is to make it easier for people to connect to the environment, especially the 2,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail running along the east coast, instead of pursuing conventional travel experiences.
We nonchalantly submitted our business plan to Queen's Entrepreneur's Competition that we heard about in class. In January, we were flabbergasted to learn that we were one of 16 finalists selected and invited to present our business plan to a panel of Canadian business leaders at the Queen's School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. We were competing for cash prizes totaling $25,000!
We started working diligently on revamping our presentation to make it competitive and appealing to venture capitalists and professional investors. The judging is based on originality of idea, marketing, finance, human resources, production/operation, overall viability and quality and conciseness of the business plan. The support that we received from Emory and the Business School was incredible. We created a professional looking brochure, interviewed leaders at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and obtained repeated feedback and advice on the presentation.
When we arrived in Kingston, Ontario, we were shocked at the excitement, organization and prestige that the competition had to offer. The teams were mainly from Canada, plus one team from Thailand and two teams from Emory. The first day of presentations was on Friday. After rehearsing repeatedly, we entered the presentation room to meet 10 judges. Our nerves were exceptionally high, but we managed to present at our best, passionately and articulately, for the allotted 20 minutes. We were then questioned by the judges for 10 minutes, followed by an additional 10 minutes of feedback. The toughest questions focused on the exact value that our business added, how we could call our company "green" while shuttling customers to local hotels, and our financials. The feedback centered on the overly ambitious scope of our business plan. We walked out completely unsure as to how we performed and what the judges truly thought.
At an elaborate dinner that night, they announced that we were one of six teams advancing to the final round on Saturday. We were surprised but extremely excited that real business people actually believed in our idea. Saturday's presentations were similar to Friday's, except that they were open to the public. We knew this would be our last time presenting this idea that we had worked on for six months now, so we gave it our all.
At the final gala Saturday night, the judges made us wait two hours before they announced the results. Access Appalachian received third place! Springing out of our chairs, we went to the front of the room to accept our award and $2000.
The best part of the weekend was the realization that hard work truly pays off. Our idea started as a paragraph and turned into a 114-page business plan that professionals with entrepreneurial experience considered exceptional. In announcing our third place win, the judge commented that often finances, operations or marketing are outsourced by businesses. However, when you strip those elements away, the people are at the core. The judges believed in us as a team, in our ability to communicate, and the passion with which we sold our idea. The entire weekend taught us a great deal about what to expect in the real business world, as well as instilling in us a confidence that cannot be learned in the classroom.
The Access Appalachian Team: Jamie Mendell, Michael Buchbinder, Melissa Gavin and Romy Kalvaria.
Jamie Mendell, BBA08