La Ceiba Microfinance Institution held its second Business Plan Competition (BPC) this January in the community of Villa Soleada outside of El Progreso, Yoro, Honduras. La Ceiba is a student-run microfinance institution that provides microloans to Hondurans who lack access to financial resources. The goal is to extend financial services to those who do not qualify for loans from commercial banks because of a lack of collateral, formal salaries and/or other requirements. The idea is to provide the clients with financial and educational tools that they can use to convenience or improve their life however they see fit. Going along with the organization’s core belief that the client knows their own lives better than any organization does, the BPC served as an opportunity to support local businesses and business initiatives by promoting and developing their ideas and their work.
The competition included an intensive five-day business development and management course leading up to the competition and ceremony on the sixth day. There were a total of ten candidates who competed with ten unique business ideas. Over the course of the week, La Ceiba staff members taught basic business principles and helped each candidate develop and budget for their business. La Ceiba contracted five volunteer judges to critique and evaluate their business plans; three local business-owners from the city of El Progreso, one bank manager from a Honduran bank and one businesswoman from the United States who served as a La Ceiba representative on the judge’s panel.
The first-place winner of the contest, Marlenia Urbina, won $200 for her Pulperia business, a small convenience store that she operates out of her home. Second, third and fourth place winners won $100 each. The second-place prize went to Moises Fuentes and his wife Maria Martha Alva Rios for selling tajadas, a typical Honduran dish. The third place winners were Rigoberto Meza Flores and his wife Reina Reyes for their plans to open a Tortillería, a store that sells tortillas. And the fourth-place prize went to Selma Santos who is an exceptional saleswoman of shoes.
The BPC Director who led the competition development and taught the classes was senior Economics and Spanish major Kelsey Whitman. Kelsey had a mission to make the competition as accessible and fair for all of La Ceiba’s clients regardless of their educational background and business experience. Most of our clients have a primary education at best and some struggle with literacy constraints, but all of the clients have business experience which they rely on to survive, making the success of their businesses critical to their wellbeing.
“My job was to gather a group of entrepreneurs who already have the skills necessary to be successful and teach them the economic implications of their decisions and help them get a realistic picture of the costs and profits from their business,” Kelsey said. “The students knew more about business than I did, and I knew more about the mathematics and economic concepts.”
Together the candidates worked with La Ceiba to make their business plans presentable for the judges and to complete a business template that gives a realistic picture of the business’ potential. “I tried to help the candidates make their business plan presentable for the judges while teaching them how to articulate its value and competitive advantages using business terms and concepts,” Kelsey said. “It turned out that the candidates who picked up on the concepts and used them in their presentations to the judges had the most success in the competition.”
The goal of the competition was to strike a balance between educational impact and the role of competition in rewarding stand-out entrepreneurs. La Ceiba will begin holding its Business Plan Competition on an annual basis.