CAMPAIGNS: FIU student contest picks up business via wider outreach

PR Team: O'Connell & Goldberg (Hollywood, FL) and Florida International University (Miami) Campaign: Bringing Innovation to Market Time Frame: Summer 2002 - April 2003 Budget: Approximately $10,000

PR Team: O'Connell & Goldberg (Hollywood, FL) and Florida International University (Miami) Campaign: Bringing Innovation to Market Time Frame: Summer 2002 - April 2003 Budget: Approximately $10,000

At age 25, Florida International University (FIU) is still a young upstart as colleges go. But with a regional and Latin-American emphasis, the Miami institution boasts some 35,000 students, including about 5,000 in its acclaimed business school. Three years ago, the College of Business Administration opened its annual business-plan contest to students from other schools in Florida, and last year to students in Latin America and the Caribbean. But only 14 teams entered last year's competition, and the school wanted to increase participation. "We really want to become known for our entrepreneurship efforts, and this competition will help us do that," explains Monique Catoggio, director of alumni and partner relations. Strategy FIU recruited a sponsor for the 2003 awards, who provided funds for ads and promotion on the condition that the program become a joint project of the business and engineering departments. The contest was renamed the Howard J. Leonhart New Venture Challenge: An International Business Plan Competition in honor of the sponsor, who founded Bioheart, a South Florida biotech company. To attract more applicants, FIU chose to rely heavily on media relations and outreach to officials at universities in Florida and Latin America. "The message we wanted to send to these universities is that we really consider ourselves the business school for the Americas," Catoggio says. Leonhart himself came up with the tagline "Bringing Innovation to Market." Tactics The business school's AOR, O'Connell & Goldberg, went to work expanding its list of Caribbean and Latin-American education reporters. A campaign to publicize the program and its November 22 application deadline began in September. "E-mail was really a miracle-worker for us," says Catoggio, noting that snail mail can be particularly slow in reaching some Latin-American countries. E-mail also helped even out the time differences, and enabled direct communication with interested students. The firm had to adjust its approaches in some Latin American countries by targeting editors and publishers instead of reporters because media decision-making tends to be more top-down in the region, notes Elizabeth Romero, an AE with O'Connell & Goldberg. The team also reached out to college papers and alumni groups, and sent information packets to deans of business, engineering, and computer-science departments. However, "it's difficult to get other universities to participate in events that aren't theirs," Catoggio says. The College of Business also featured contest details prominently on its website. Results Whereas 20 applicants entered last year, this time 42 vied for the top prizes, which were awarded in April. The majority hailed from Latin America. O'Connell & Goldberg garnered media placements on Terra.com, AOL in Argentina, and the Spanish-language news service EFE. Catoggio was interviewed on CNN en Espa?ol. The Sun-Sentinel, based in Fort Lauderdale, also included the call for entries in a story about business plans. Other reporters said they used the contest announcement in education- and entrepreneur-focused columns or segments, but didn't follow up to report the winners. (The top prize of $7,500 went to EnSol Inc., a team from the University of Central Florida that developed a vacuum packaging bag.) Future A newly hired director for the College of Business' Center for Entrepreneurship will work to secure more sponsorships and increase prize money. Having greatly increased international participation, Catoggio says the university will focus on cultivating more applications from its own students and from other Florida schools. She also anticipates dividing the competition among various academic tracks, such as biotechnology and general business. Within the next five years, Catoggio hopes one of the winners will establish a successful local enterprise based on a business plan developed for the contest. The business school plans to continue working with O'Connell & Goldberg on the next contest and other programs.

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