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The Early Innovators Business Plan Competition

Steinbeis experts promote entrepreneurship among young people by running a business plan competition for young Romanians

Biodegradable protective masks, wooden bicycle frames, telemedicine – just three examples of the multitude of business concepts developed by young Romanians as part of the Early Innovators Business Plan Competition. Organized by the Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum, the Steinbeis Innovation Center, the aim of the competition was to give 15- to 18-year-old students the chance to develop their own ideas over a period of several months. They were also asked to make their ideas more concrete and capture them in a business plan.

The Steinbeis team from Deggingen was taken aback by the strength of interest in the Early Innovators Business Plan Competition. Roughly 680 young people – 70 percent of whom were female – took part in the business plan competition, the first of its kind to be organized by the Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum. The experts from Steinbeis attached great importance to diversity among the participants, as Jürgen Raizner explains: “The Early Innovators Business Plan Competition is the only contest in Romania open to students from any school. We made a conscious effort to ensure it wasn’t just business school students who participated.”

From initial ideas to project implementation

Originally, the plan looked quite different. The initial idea was to organize the contest as a kind of pilot competition at three schools in the county of Dambovita. The organizers anticipated having between 60 and 80 contestants. Then came the coronavirus pandemic, so the Steinbeis team decided to adapt their concept to allow the competition to be held online. This made it possible to reach out to schools throughout the whole of Romania. The project received support from nearly 100 teachers, who also integrated the competition into their lessons. To foster an understanding among the teachers that merging entrepreneurial thinking with expertise in different topics offers tremendous educational potential, they were also provided instruction by the team at the Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum. The project also benefited from the know-how of Steinbeis Transfer Management S.R.L. – STM, a Bucharest-based company, which also provided access to its network of contacts.  Financial support came from the Baden-Württemberg Foundation as part of a funding program called Perspektive Donau (“Prospects for the Danube”), without which it would have been impossible to manage the complexity of the business competition. Technical and planning support was provided by Banca Comerciala Romana, the most important financial group in Romania.

Inspirational ideas from young entrepreneurs

In total, the contestants submitted 162 business plans, each of which received individual feedback including descriptions of how they were evaluated. Importantly, they were also offered concrete advice on moving forward with the business idea. The Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum invited 16 teams and individual applicants to the finals of the Early Innovators Business Plan Competition. At the closing event, which was broadcast live across the country through a variety of social media channels, a jury of 20 leading Romanian entrepreneurs made a final announcement of the winners. The first prize of €800 went to a student who developed a concept for renting out storage space complete with a delivery service that can be managed by an app to make it easier to administer the storage and retrieval of stocked items. Second place and a prize of €600 went to a student who developed a business plan for reusable face masks, which not only deliver highly effective protection but are also produced from coffee-based textiles making them biodegradable. The third prize of €400 was won by a team of students that decided to look more closely into the design of telehealth applications for the disabled. An additional innovation prize of €200 was awarded to a student who investigated an idea for offering fair billing for waste disposal and more efficient collection of household garbage in different regions of Romania. Two special prizes were also awarded on the spur of the moment for the best financial plan and the best description of a technology.

High praise for the Steinbeis project

In his address to all contestants, Ion Sorin, Secretary of State for Pre-University Education at the Romanian Ministry of Education, praised the wealth of opportunity offered by the competition: “Not all of the three million students in Romania will go on to become businesspeople, but that doesn’t mean that any one of them should forego the right to imagine becoming an entrepreneur themselves at some point. And that is why we’re very excited about this project. We would like it to continue and intend to support it as much as we can.” Romanian students from tenth grade and higher are entitled to receive instruction on entrepreneurship. By organizing the Early Innovators Business Plan Competition, the Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum is able to add weight to this education. “We’d really like to motivate young people to look into this form of career development,” explains Jürgen Raizner, who plans to keep the project going in the future.


Jürgen Raizner (author)
Steinbeis Entrepreneur
Steinbeis Innovation Center: Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum (Deggingen)

Roxana Boboruta (author)
Freelance project manager
Steinbeis Innovation Center: Steinbeis-Donau-Zentrum (Deggingen)