By Amara Kniep
Director, E-Community Partnership
Since 2019, it has been my pleasure to work alongside a local entrepreneurial start-up company, Moonbase Labs, to oversee the development of VentureDash, the best way to run a business competition. VentureDash is an online platform that lets users create, host, and manage their competition using efficient, time-saving tools in a simple, modern framework. The platform was originally created to serve the NetWork Kansas Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge (YEC) Series, but can be purchased and used by anyone within the United States running a business competition.
The YEC Series is an annual sequence of locally-organized youth entrepreneurship competitions that culminate in a statewide championship. This year, and every year since 2018, the Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge state championship was hosted by Kansas State University, in partnership with the Kansas Masonic Foundation and the Kansas State University Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship. The event was a resounding success, and we are incredibly thankful for the very generous sponsorship from the Kansas Masons. Thanks to them, and the event support from K-State faculty and staff, every single student that competed in the day’s events got to go home with prize money, in addition to valuable life experience. I think all of our staff would agree it was the best day of the year!
However, it’s not only our wonderful partners and volunteers who made such a large-scale competition a success. The Kansas Entrepreneurship Challenge was running on VentureDash. Trust me when I tell you that having powerful software is a game changer when it comes to hosting a business competition.
In 2017, NetWork Kansas organized the state championship at Fort Hays State University ourselves. It was our first time coordinating an event this large, and we experienced firsthand the struggles that local event organizers go through. This was long before VentureDash, and we had to do all the work of coordinating, registering, scoring, and accounting “by hand.” We sent out a plethora of emails, scored presentations with tons of Excel spreadsheets, and dispersed all judge feedback by hand after the event (we made photocopies and mailed them to students!). It was quite the ordeal. We knew that hosting business competitions for young people was valuable, and we knew something had to be done to make things easier for event hosts!
So, the idea of VentureDash was born. We developed an early internal prototype (the “YEC Portal) until we realized it had grown so much and was in such high demand that it was time to pay someone to create an even better product. That’s when Moonbase entered the picture.
VentureDash officially launched in 2020 and has been off to the races ever since. We now have customers in Kansas, Idaho, Wisconsin, and West Virginia using it for pitch competitions for adults and youth business plan e-fairs. This is fantastic, and we are pleased with the growth VentureDash was able to achieve from the start!
To expand our customer base, vet our pricing strategy, and find other vertical markets VentureDash works for, I have started working with a group of Capstone students at Kansas State University’s Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship. These students are just about to graduate with their MBAs. They take on high-level projects for established companies as their final project before officially earning their degree.
Three talented students are currently working with me, studying the current market and interviewing existing customers and identifying potential customers who will be interviewed during the final phase of the project.
The feedback from the interviews and the market research will be combined into a final report featuring recommendations on how to make the platform more appealing to consumers in terms of pricing structure and functionality. The students will present their findings to me, and I will continue to strategize on how to best incorporate their findings into our current business model – what stays the same, what needs to shift, what new customers can be we branch out to, etc. I have been working on a lot of this on my own as well, but this supplemental information will help me make the final decisions.
The findings will also affect how we market and sell the VentureDash Challenge, which is essentially the YEC Series, outside of Kansas. All in all, I’m greatly looking forward to wrapping up this semester so we can receive recommendations on how to grow VentureDash! The findings will undoubtedly lead to lots of exciting growth – I can feel it already!