The 2023 edition of the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge (RVCC), an annual pitch competition hosted by UMKC, is expected to award $90,000 in equity-free funding to student entrepreneurs and Kansas City businesses.
Ben Williams, managing director at the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, shared his excitement for this year’s event — set for April 28 — and noted how the long-running competition had served as a launching pad for young entrepreneurs.
Specifically, Williams referenced Crib Coaching and Interplay as examples of recent student-led ventures that received funding at the RVCC and built off that success.
“There’s a lot of stories like that, where you can see RVCC being a point on their journey,” Williams said. “That’s really the goal, is to provide some support for those ventures that are getting started in gathering some momentum and need that next push.”
The funding is critical to that push, Williams acknowledged, but so too is the pitch process and the ability to critically examine a business idea, he said.
“Being able to really be forced to think about their company, to be able to pitch it to someone concisely, and then to stand up to questioning, forces entrepreneurs to go through and answer some questions that maybe they haven’t thought of in depth or haven’t been very intentional about their answers,” Williams said.
“It really stretches that business model to its breaking point, which allows entrepreneurs to figure out where they need to improve and where they need to grow,” he added.
Click here to read more about the 2022 winners at UMKC’s Regnier Venture Creation Challenge.
Applications open through April 2
The RVCC is broken down into three different categories, each with different eligibility requirements.
The Regnier College Startup Awards are open to all degree-seeking students at universities in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.
First, second, and third place awards will be issued for $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000, respectively.
The BlueKC Healthcare Innovation Awards have the same eligibility requirements, and will award $15,000 and $10,000 to first and second place winners, respectively.
The James and Rae Block Kansas City Startup Awards are open to Kansas City businesses with revenue of less than $250,000. Those businesses will compete for a first place prize of $15,000 and a second place prize of $10,000.
Started during the pandemic to help support local businesses, the Block award helps connect small businesses in Kansas City with UMKC resources and support, Williams said.
“The point is to recognize and support those entrepreneurs who aren’t college students, but also need our help, our support, our resources, and the attention that we can provide to them,” Williams said.
Last year’s two winners — Cafe Cà Phê and SeeInMe — have secured funding and achieved notable success from other Kansas City grant programs and pitch competitions.
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Finally, honorable mention awards of $2,500 — including outstanding social venture, outstanding creative enterprise, and outstanding undergraduate — are expected to be issued to student-led ventures.
Applications for all categories must be submitted by Sunday, April 2.
Click here to apply and find more information.
Semifinalists will be notified by April 14 if they have been accepted. From there, a virtual semifinal competition will take place on April 21, before the finals are held live at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management on the UMKC campus on April 28.
Transformative threats, opportunities
Though the RVCC is a long-running pitch competition, its importance has arguably never been greater, Williams said.
“Especially right now, I think it’s really important to encourage students to pursue those passions, to solve problems, to create something that they can run themselves,” Williams said.
He noted that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted “socially transformative years” for many of these students, limiting their opportunities to have difficult conversations in-person.
“When we’re asking entrepreneurs to get out there into the world and do something that is uncomfortable. … That’s scary for anybody, but especially this generation that hasn’t necessarily had those opportunities before,” Williams said. “I think it’s really important to encourage students to take those entrepreneurial leaps now.”
Williams also pointed to the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence as yet another reason why nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset will pay dividends for students in the future.
“AI is going to take the place of a lot of the mundane tasks that we would have done in the past,” Williams said. “Students are really going to have to be creative. They’re going to have to be innovative, and they’re going to have to be entrepreneurial to figure out how they can impact the world and what value they can bring beyond just getting the work done day-to-day.”
Ultimately, seeing the innovative and entrepreneurial ideas in the next generation — and among local business leaders — keeps Williams excited for the RVCC each year, he said.
“The community engagement in this is also a fun part for me,” Williams said. “It’s not just us at UMKC. … The students and participants come from every part of the community, they represent every type of business you could think of, and we’re always excited to see what everyone’s doing.”