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A Big Opportunity for Business Students
Local entrepreneur shares advice on small business success
Venture capital and social media have revolutionized the way that startups do business, but according to William Topkis, an entrepreneur's success still depends on one thing: the ability to communicate a compelling business plan.
He should know. The president of the Delaware Founders Initiative and Wilmington native has been running his own insurance and financial services firms for decades. During a July 19 visit to Wilmington University, he shared his wisdom with four of the school's aspiring business owners.
"I've been an entrepreneur all my life, I was mentored early on," said Topkis, 78. "I was taught to have a good presentation, first and foremost. You have to know your business plan backward and forward."
The four students, who were invited to meet Topkis based on high academic performance, discussed their goals and challenges over sandwiches in a New Castle campus classroom. Charles Bryant markets handcrafted jewelry, Reney Jessop seeks to expand his bakery stand, Kirk Phang has developed a sports apparel brand, and Dwane Smith is planning a Jamaican cuisine food truck.
Topkis's visit opened the door for these students to grow their businesses through the support of the Wilmington-based Delaware Founders Initiative, a resource center for local startups that aims to keep them in the state.
Launched in 2016, the organization's team of angel investors provides small business owners with training, mentoring, funding, and other necessary assets. To the WilmU students, Topkis offered assistance in drafting and delivering their business plans. Because as eager as small businesses are to secure seed funding, he said, there is no substitute for the hard sell.
"They call it a pitch, but I hate that word. It's a presentation," said Topkis. "What I want to see is who you're selling to, how much you've sold, and what's the geographical area you're selling to. If you come to me, I'm going to ask some very specific questions." And, since your potential investors tend to be busy individuals, you'd best keep it under five minutes, he advised.
The visit was an example of how Wilmington University invites real-world experience into classroom learning, said Dr. Audrey Blume, chair of the school's business management program.
"What Bill was looking for today was, do we have students with passion, vision, and ideas, who are committed?" she said. "We hear our students talking about their business dreams. So we wanted them to have this opportunity, because they can really shine. Bill and all of us were impressed by the students who attended today. They're really onto something."
About Wilmington University
Wilmington University is a private, nonprofit institution committed to providing flexible, career-oriented, traditional and online associate, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs. Ranked as the second fastest growing nonprofit doctoral institution in America by The Almanac of The Chronicle of Higher Education (2004-2014), Wilmington University enables greater student success through affordable tuition, academic excellence and individualized attention. For more information, contact Wilmington University at 302-356-INFO (4636), via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.wilmu.edu.