La Ceiba, the microfinance institution run by University of Mary Washington students, awarded a total of $625 to three Honduran entrepreneurs in La Ceiba’s first-ever business plan competition.
The awards recently culminated a year-long effort by the competition’s UMW student organizers, who raised grant funds, helped devise training for poor, entrepreneurial-minded Hondurans and traveled to the Central American country to teach business-development classes as part of the competition.
The first-place winner of the contest received $250 for her business plan to supplement her work as an artisan by selling new products along with eco-friendly purses made from recycled materials. The second-place finisher won $200 for her plan to sell tamales and tajadas, two typical Honduran dishes, out of her home.
The third-place winner received $175 for his plan to work as a welder to supplement his income from selling tajadas snacks. He will work on the windows and window bars of schools planned by Students Helping Honduras, a UMW student-run organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
The business plan competition grew out of La Ceiba students’ desire to open an enterprise incubation and development center in Honduras. “The motivation was to work with entrepreneurs to transform their ideas into micro- and small-scale enterprises so that they could in the future begin offering wage employment to others in the community,” said Shawn Humphrey, associate professor of economics and the faculty advisor to La Ceiba.
A year ago, the UMW students conducted a feasibility study in the Honduran community of El Progreso, and they found that no training was available for the poor trying to start businesses there. “We believed our first step to realizing the Enterprise Incubation and Development Center was to create a base of entrepreneurs who would desire its services, and we felt like the way to do that was to create a business plan competition,” Humphrey said.
As part of La Ceiba’s contest, the students tweaked a pre-set curriculum as they taught local entrepreneurs how to start or improve businesses. Benjamin Saunders, a senior and a leader of the initiative, said the original material was geared towards starting businesses, but La Ceiba was focused on improving existing enterprises. “We had sessions brainstorming how we could help our clients’ businesses,” said Saunders, who is majoring in anthropology and international affairs.
At the end of the weeklong training, entrepreneurs submitted business plans for consideration in the contest. The El Progreso community was eager to get involved with the competition, and not just by competing. Prominent community members who helped judge the entries included the chamber of commerce president, the rotary club president, two bank officials and two local entrepreneurs, Humphrey said. He said La Ceiba hopes to hold the competition annually, contingent on funding.