What’s Your Business Model?

That question was in an email to me yesterday from someone I do not know.  I found it amusingly audacious.  I will follow up, but I’m assuming the subtext of the question is, “How do you make money and are you making enough of it to buy something from me?”

I will acknowledge, however, that it’s the time of year when I ask myself the same question: “What’s your business model?”

The 4th Annual VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge will be held on April 11, 2012 in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.  The deadline for registering for both the Student Competition and the Open Competition is February 10.

I joined VT KnowledgeWorks in 2008 as an individual.  At the time, VT KnowledgeWorks was called an “incubator,” a term too limiting to describe both starting and growing a company, so it’s now more aptly named an “acceleration center.”  However, my company, Handshake Media, Incorporated, was truly born at VT KnowledgeWorks and will celebrate its 4th year of membership in July, 2012.

Passionate by nature and eager to take full advantage of all that VT KnowledgeWorks offered – to reduce the risk of my small company failing and to increase its potential for growth – for the first three years, I participated in every single program and event at VT KnowledgeWorks. 

I have found one of the hardest parts of this entrepreneurial life to be that, having achieved mastery in another field in another life, I have entered a new field in which I am a novice. Trial-and-error learning is to be expected in any new endeavor, from dribbling a basketball to scaling an enterprise. I find the error part of this second go-round very painful. The greater the knowledge I had in my former field, the fewer errors I made. I will make fewer errors as I learn this field. But now? Ooh, they smart.

I, unapologetically, take work personally. My experience with the Entrepreneurship Challenge is, therefore, personal.  I applied to present at the first Entrepreneurship Challenge and wasn’t accepted.  That smarted.  I applied and was accepted to present at the second Entrepreneurship Challenge.  At the end of my pitch, one of the angel investors on the panel had his head in his hands.  That smarted.  Still feeling terrible about that experience, I missed my first VTKW event and didn’t apply to the third Entrepreneurship Challenge. 

In addition to submitting an intent to compete and a registration fee, entrants must submit a one-page summary of their business concepts. (Here’s the .pdf of the guidelines for the Open Competition.)

Did I think about applying to the third Entrepreneurship Challenge?  Yes, I did.  As I had each year before, I wrote a one-page summary – this time for myself – in response to the application’s prompts:

1. Please state the business concept title and all team member name(s)
2. Explain the product or service
3. Underlying technology
4. Uniqueness and/or innovation of the concept
5. Initial Customer Base for the product or service
6. Customer need met by the product or service
7. Estimate of the market size for the product or service

The subtext of the prompts?  The same question as in yesterday’s email:  “What’s your business model?”

The deadline to enter 4th Annual VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge is two days from today.

I am thinking of applying.

Why would I apply again?  The prizes are VT KnowledgeWorks services, which I consider invaluable and of which, therefore, I have already partaken. So it’s not the prizes.

It’s the audience. Who’s in the audience at the VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge? According to the information page, it’s “individuals interested in investing in early-stage companies.”  Subtext?  The panelists and some members of the audience are angel investors – or know someone who is because “It’s still who you know” – whose funds and guidance could turn ideas for companies – my idea among them – into real companies.

To an individual considering applying, I wrote a full disclosure of my experience with pitching at this and similar events: “I give my presentation all I have and feel elated at the end, the panelists ask me horrible questions about revenue and users that I can’t answer, I feel publicly humiliated, and I hate myself for days, sometimes weeks afterward. Then I sign up again, because how I feel about the ideas I pitch is stronger than how I feel about having the ideas – or myself – questioned, even ridiculed, even in public.”

The deadline for registering for both the Student Competition and the Open Competition is February 10, two days from today…

I have found writing a yearly one-page summary answering the question – whether in response to an email, on paper, or for a business concept competition – “What is your business model?” deepens my understanding of my company and helps me see new ideas for its growth.

And I am crazy passionate about my ideas.

See you at the 4th Annual VT KnowledgeWorks Entrepreneurship Challenge, one way – or another.


I gave a one-minute elevator pitch at Distilled Intelligence 1.0 on October 11, 2011.  In this recording of the first round of pitches, you can click here to see my pitch for She Chooses at 1:02:40.  Eli the Computer Guy mentions the pitch at 1:11:42.

Posts that may be of further interest:
Angel Investor Guide to Blacksburg, Virginia
Ten Bottom Line Stats About Angel Investing
An Entrepreneur Walks into a Bar…

VT KnowledgeWorks is a client of Handshake Media, Incorporated, the parent company of Handshake 2.0.  Handshake Media, Incorporated is a passionate and eager member of VT KnowledgeWorks.

Work: It's Personal
Work: It's Personal, by Anne Giles Clelland

Speak Your Mind