OtterBox Founder Splashes $250K on Colorado Business Plan Challenge

10/21/13Follow @MichaelXBD

What could get entrepreneurs interested in another business plan competition? How about $250,000 cash in prizes, along with the potential for further investment and mentoring and professional services? And maybe some lessons from the founder and chairman of OtterBox about how to build a $500 million-plus company.

That’s what’s available in the inaugural Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge, a competition launched last month by Blue Ocean Enterprises and Colorado State University. Both are in Fort Collins, the city in northern Colorado where the competition will be held.

The finals will be May 23 and 24, and organizers started taking applications last week. The deadline to enter is Dec. 15.

Blue Ocean Enterprises is underwriting the competition. Blue Ocean is an investment management and services company owned by Curt Richardson, the founder, chairman, and owner of OtterBox, which is based in Fort Collins. Richardson co-owns it with his wife, and it is an active investor around Fort Collins. According to its website, it has invested in more than a dozen local companies.

If you own a smartphone, you know OtterBox. There’s a chance you own one of its cases, as its products are among the bestselling smartphone cases in the U.S. The cases have made OtterBox one of the fastest growing companies in Colorado—in 2012, it took in $573.9 million in revenue and employed 600 people, according to Inc. Magazine.

Richardson and his companies try to give back to their communities, and that’s one reason why they are launching the competition, said Kurt Hoeven, CEO of Blue Ocean Holdings, which oversees Blue Ocean’s investments. They also want to help nurture and promote the growing ecosystem of local entrepreneurs.

“There’s already a ton of really great things going on in this region with startups and growing companies. We’d love to help amplify it,” Hoeven said.

The large sum of money offered is one of the ways Blue Ocean hopes to attract top-notch entrepreneurs and stand out from the proliferation of similar events that are sprouting up, Hoeven said. The purse is one of the largest in the U.S. and comparable to MassChallenge in Boston or Rice University’s competition in Houston.

In addition to the $250,000, the winner is eligible for mentoring over the next year. Blue Ocean also is considering investing in companies that compete in the program, although that ultimately will be left up to Blue Ocean and the competitors.

The judges will be looking for companies with innovative ideas and entrepreneurs with a lot of potential, Hoeven said. The competition will be open to companies from all industries as long as they’re based in the U.S.

There are other entry criteria that set a high bar for entrants. Startups must be seeking capital, and more established companies must be looking for growth capital. They also need a completed product capable of generating some revenue, or to have raised a minimum of $100,000 and used it for research or product development.

The organizers felt it was important to create a contest that is not just for startups that are in their infancy, Hoeven said.

“There have been a lot of competitions for startups, and in our experience, we realize [it can take companies years] before they finally figure out that innovative, high-growth opportunity,” Hoeven said.

There’s also a parallel competition known as the Blue Ocean Enterprises Collegiate Challenge for entrepreneurs attending any university in Colorado. That will award $20,000 to the winner.

Colorado State and Blue Ocean hope to make the event an annual fixture, said Charisse Bowen, director of the CSU business school’s Institute for Entrepreneurship. They hope it connects to and expands on other initiatives in Colorado that nurture startup communities, like the Techstars accelerator in Boulder, and will raise Fort Collins’s profile among entrepreneurs.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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