The Yale Entrepreneurial Society kicked off its annual $50,000 Entrepreneurship competition last night with a speech by a winner of “The Apprentice.”
Randall Pinkett, who won a job from Donald Trump in the fourth season of the hit NBC reality show, spoke to approximately 40 students about his multiple pathways to business success. His address launched YES’s Y50K competition, an annual contest that awards $50,000 to the team with the best business plan as judged on a number of factors, including attractiveness to investors, target market and feasibility.
Pinkett recounted his experiences with entrepreneurship from his junior high school years until after he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He also discussed his success on “The Apprentice.”
The Y50K competition — started in spring 2000 — aims to give community members a chance to transform their rough ideas for businesses into solid business proposals.
“It’s essentially our means of connecting the ideas that are currently in dorms and in laboratories at Yale with the outside world, giving not just startup capital, but education and the resources they need to be successful,” YES president Brad Hargreaves ’07 said.
Participants can apply to either the for-profit division of the competition or the recently added category of social entrepreneurship, which requires the business plan to have a “charitable mission” and to “stress social responsibility,” according to the official competition rules. The deadline for entry this year is Feb. 18, while the ultimate winner will be chosen on April 14 at the conclusion of a two-day YES conference featuring panels and a variety of speakers who will discuss entrepreneurship.
Hargreaves said the competition is funded by multiple corporate sponsors, private foundations and partly by Yale itself.
YES officials said the biggest change over the years has been the rapid increase in biotechnology applications since Y50K first expanded into that area two years ago. YES Vice President for Operations Marty Rod ’08 said the event has increased its coordination with and funding from the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, which encourages academic research with possible business applications. YES has also witnessed a general rise in the sophistication and professionalism of entries, Rod said.
“I feel like our level of competition and entry quality has gotten a lot better and definitely improved over the years,” he said.
Rod said the number of entries has grown enormously since the program’s inception. While he could not provide exact figures, he said that last year YES received about 60 applications.
Originally, YES planned to bring Jim Perry, the CEO of Trump Entertainment Resort, to speak two weeks ago, but the event was called off after Perry came down with the flu. YES member Jessica Rubin ’09, who helped organize Perry’s original visit, said she hopes to bring Perry back later in the semester to speak to YES.
Many in attendance Tuesday night said Pinkett was a highly appropriate speaker to kick off the competition. Steven Hao ’09 said he appreciated Pinkett’s explanation of starting his own business in college.
“I was inspired by his experiences founding a company while in college,” he said.
But others said Pinkett’s speech was underwhelming considering his formidable professional background. Josh Helmrich ’09, who is considering entering the Y50K, said he expected a more inspiring speech considering Pinkett’s personal achievements.
“I wouldn’t say his speech was that inspirational, but more his accomplishments,” Helmrich said.
Several weeks ago, YES concluded Y2K, which was described by the official entry information as an “easy-to-enter warm-up round for the Y50K” and which awarded a total of $2,000 to the top three business plans.