Book sellers got boost from business plan competition

Author: Carol Elliott


Better World Books now employs about 130 full-time workers in its Mishawaka warehouse, where the booksellers sell 5,000 or so books daily to online shoppers. As part of the companys mission to become thevirtuous Amazon,Better World also has channeled some $3.5 million of revenues toward literacy projects around the world.

Yet five years ago, founders Christopher Fuchs, Xavier Helgesen and Jeff Kurtzman were just three University of Notre Dame alums standing in front of a panel of business plan competition judges, explaining their vision for a company that would recycle old textbooks and build literacy at the same time.

The friends won the 2003 Notre Dame Sustainable Social Venture Plan, which is hosted by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Mendoza College of Business, and turned the $7,000 grand prize into the viable venture that Better World Books is today.

From the very beginning, we realized that there was a lot of unrealized potential in these old books,said Fuchs.People were throwing away books, so we said, ‘Lets make something good come out of it. Lets try to do this full time, meeting the opportunity thats out there.

Along with the prize money, the owners also gained valuable mentoring through Gigot that helped them develop their business plan into a thriving business. In fact, as Better Worlds growth took off, they asked their mentor, David Murphy, a 25-year veteran of corporate operations, to join the company as president and CEO.

The Gigot Center has seen many success stories similar to Better World result from its business plan competitions, which offer two main events: The McCloskey Business Plan Competition, which is intended for traditional entrepreneurial ventures that have not yet been launched or are at the earliest stages of being launched; and the Sustainable Social Venture Plan Competition, an opportunity to combine entrepreneurship with a social mission or purpose.

On April 18, 2008, a new crop of entrepreneurs will learn if their business plans earned them a chance to replicate the success of Better World Books. The Gigot Center recently announced the 12 team finalists from among 39 semifinalists who compete in the two competitions, with Notre Dame entrepreneurs and alumni serving as judges. Winners will be announced during the final event held at April 18 at 1:30 p.m. in the Jordan Auditorium at the Mendoza College of Business. Prizes total more than $40,000.

As for the future of Better World, the owners know that the book retailing industry is full of giant competitors, and that future trends in book selling are difficult to predict. Still, they expect their story to have a happy ending.

Theres nothing certain in the industry,said Fuchs.But when it comes down to the dreams that I have for this company, theyre to make an impact on the world and to build a great company. And by great, I mean one thats a leader not just in the industry, but in terms of our responsibility to our stakeholders – the environment, the community, our employees and our shareholders.

For more information about the McCloskey and Sustainable Social Venture Plan competitions, or the Gigot Center, visit the Gigot Centers Web site at .

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