Thayne Carper is carving a path to the fast track, and if he gets there, he just might owe part of it to his business-minded grandmother who regularly renews his subscription to Forbes magazine.

Carper, a junior business major at Concord University, is one of the finalists in the 2008 Statewide Business Plan Competition, which is annually hosted by West Virginia Universitys Entrepreneurship Center (http://www.be.wvu.edu/bpc/index.htm).

Along with Concord, student teams at WVU , Marshall University and Glenville State College are planning and pitching their way for the chance to win $10,000 to cover start-up costsplus a bundle of other services to help their budding businesses.

Theyll go for the grand prize Saturday (April 12) at WVU . Final judging will be from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. in G20 and G21 Ming Hseih (sounds like SHAY ) Hall, directly behind Oglebay Hall, on the WVU Downtown Campus. Winners over the past six years include a husband-and-wife team that started its own successful collection agency and an artisan who makes high-end guitars coveted by musicians around the world.

While the potential and promise to dream big are there, the grand prize does come grounded with two unwavering rules, said Mindy Walls, who directs the center based at WVU s College of Business and Economics.

To be considered, a plan must have real-world applications in the business world, she said, and the winning business has to be launched in West Virginia.

Its not an exercise or an assignment,she said.They are to be actual plans that any entrepreneur would present to any investor anywhere, and thats as �€~real worldas it gets.

Thats why the competition goes far beyond a nifty PowerPoint presentation and slick sales pitch. And while this rigorous event began last September with 66 teams representing 11 schools, just 10 teams remain today.

It hasnt been easy, Walls said. To get to this point, teams were scored on everything from their initial concept to how well they performed during the sweaty palm-inducing elevator pitch, where the presenter has just two minutes to sum up the plan and the promise of the service.

It all starts with an idea,Walls said.The students put it on paper, and we help them refine it and put it before the people who can help advance it.

Anything can happen,she said.They might be in every shopping mall in America. They might be the king or queen of commerce in cyberspace.

And one company, as Carper hopes, just might help West Virginias small businesses to keep a big handle on their bottom line. Thats the mission of his proposed company, Blue Synergyand thats where the aforementioned Forbes magazine and his grandmother come in.

My grandma usually buys me a subscription,the Spencer native said.An article in the July edition caught my eye. It said that West Virginia was �€~the worst state for business,or words to that effect. I wondered how I could have a positive impact on the situation.

He started by conducting his own canvass of small businesses around his hometown. Then he looked at 200 highly successful companies across the globe to see how they kept down those day-to-day operational costs.

Carper spent the rest of those not-so-lazy days of summer working up a plan thats pliable, like modeling clay, to conform to any companys cost-ledger needs.

Its profit building,he said,and were making those best practices available to businesses right here at home.

Here are brief profiles of the proposed companies vying for the big prize, as provided by the teams themselves:

  • Advanced Research Instrumentation (WVU) is a firm which develops flexible, high-quality research instruments for use in small research laboratories. ARI intends to lessen the cost of laboratory construction by designing and constructing low-cost instrumentation by a combination of engineering innovations, significant reliance on inexpensive, computer-based operation and maximizing design flexibility. Disregarding theturn-keyideology of mainstream instrumentation providers, ARI sets the stage for a new era in customizable firmware infrastructure to better service the changing needs of laboratories across the globe, starting with West Virginia. Contact: Nick Anthony, 304-280-9381, nanthony@mix.wvu.edu
  • Gas Pass (Glenville State College) is a new and innovative product that is designed to eliminate the constant worry and concern that burdens our state and its businesses owners on a daily basis. The goal of Gas Pass is not to minimize the amount of drive-offs at the gasoline pumps, but to instead eliminate all occurrences in which gasoline is stolen. The Gas Pass is inexpensive as it will be designed in the same format as a debit/credit card machine and needs little time or resources to be installed on the facing of a gasoline pump. Gas Pass will benefit both business owners and consumers immediately as it is a much more simple and effective process than the current deterrents that are in place. This is an extraordinary business opportunity for West Virginia to be the first state in the country to resolve a problem that has perplexed our nation for decades. Contact: Lance J. Hitt, 304-210-5595, LJHittz_5@Hotmail.com
  • Gorge Gazers (WVU) , orGun Slinger,helps your business see a need, then fill it. After working in the rafting industry for three years, we recognized the need to redesign safety equipment, and we have many innovative ideas that will improve the whitewater rafting industry. Our best product? Weve redesigned raftings rescue throw bag so it can now be used from any boat. In the original design, it could only be deployed from the riverbank, which took critical time in rescues. Our design is quicker and more efficient, making it a literal lifesaver. Preliminary field tests have generated positive feedback and interest in our product. This is the start to an exciting evolution in whitewater equipment. Contact: Zach Armentrout, 304-228-5060, zarmentr@mix.wvu.edu
  • OutLaw Feeders (WVU) is a company based in Morgantown that produces a unique round hay bale feeder specially designed for horses. Our goal is not only to provide an OutLaw Feeder to small equine operation owners, but to enable their independence when supplying round hay bales as another source of roughage to their stock. The OutLaw Feeder is manufactured with a trailer base making transport easy enough for one person to operate. It also has other benefits such as saving time, money and labor, and it cuts back on how much hay is wasted in a feeding cycle. Contact: Jessi James, 443-864-3493, jjames9@mix.wvu.edu
  • Stress-Free Scheduling (WVU) is a computer software program used by managers to easily create schedules for employees. The software allows managers to take out the human element in schedule creation, limiting the number of scheduling errors and also any notions of favoritism or discrimination. There are other automated scheduling programs available, but Stress-Free Scheduling is different because of three important attributes: customized company scheduling templates, employee availability and scheduling preferences of employees and managers. Stress-Free Scheduling makes creating employee schedules as easy as one-one-one. Managers fill out one simple survey about their company to create a custom scheduling template, employees fill out one form that states their availability, and once the template is combined with availability, a manager can create a schedule with the click of one button. Employees can also list their scheduling preferences, which managers can choose to take into account on an individual basis based on employee performance. Stress-Free Scheduling software would be targeted at individual small businesses, with a secondary market of large corporate chains with which to develop contracts. Contact: Lindsay Barrows, 304-412-1069, lbarrows@mix.wvu.edu
  • BetOnWeightLoss.com (WVU) will take a fresh and innovative approach to combat Americas No. 1 health problemobesity. Daily health reports tie obesity to a plethora of diseases and a shortened life span; yet, two-thirds of America is overweight. The only effective solution lies in taking a different approach, and BetOnWeightLoss.com is here to attack the obesity epidemic from a new anglemotivation. Capitalizing on recent scientific studies that show money is an effective motivator, BetOnWeightLoss.com will financially bind members to their specified weight-loss goals. Members will be required to set a target weight and then pony up a cashsecurity depositto motivate them to lose weight. If successful, BetOnWeightLoss.com will return thesecurity depositplus a premium. Additionally, the Web site will become Americas premier weight-loss site by creating an online, social networking community and offering the most accurate and comprehensive information about all aspects of losing weight. Contact: John Failing, 240-818-7528, failingjohn@yahoo.com
  • Blue Synergy (Concord University) is a management/utility consulting firm that will aid mid-size, independently owned West Virginia businesses in building a better bottom line. Blue Synergy will provide these businesses with customized programs that focus on long-term cost-reduction strategies. In short, Blue Synergy helps businesses build their bottom line in the following ways: by providing and implementing ways for businesses to reduce energy, water and waste consumption, thus reducing expenses and improving efficiency; by auditing and verifying various business utility billslooking for billing errors and ways to lower these expenses; and by providing these businesses with management training in the area of cost reduction, allowing businesses to develop their own ongoing expense-reduction program that operates in the background of everyday business activities. This business was created by studying the profit-building habits of todays most successful businesses. Contact: Thayne Carper, 304-543-9978, carpert29@concord.edu
  • Good Times (Marshall University) is a youth-oriented company which will provide creative gifts for the hopeless romantic. Arriving first is Puckers, a strip placed on the tongue to enhance the experience of kissing with a burst of flavor. Instead of addressing bad breath, Puckersfocus is on providing taste for couples to share. With a variety of flavors not unlike Ben&Jerrys diverse ice cream selection, Puckers sets itself apart and establishes a niche market for purchase in specialty stores. The product is augmented through an online community that builds customer relationships. As a part of the overall strategy, this serves to create barriers to market entry and lock in customers for repeat business by making use an engaging experience. With this positioning, Good Timesproducts will be promoted as fun accessories for expressing love. Contact: Matthew Smith, 304-389-6803, smith1053@marshall.edu
  • J-B Adventures (Glenville State College) is a rock-climbing gym and extreme sports store to be centrally located in Charleston. The location is ideal; its only an hour away from world-class rock climbing, whitewater kayaking and rafting destinations. The gym would challenge experienced climbers and also show beginners a good time. The extreme sports store will allow consumers the option of coming in our store to check out the item they are going to purchase rather than having to order online or travel to a remote part of the state. With our knowledge and passion for the outdoors, we will also offer many different clinics that will get customers into wild, wonderful West Virginia. Contact: Joshua Meadows, 304-462-6315, meadows.joshuan@glenville.edu
  • Wholesomes (WVU) is a healthy fast food restaurant using primarily agriculture from the Mountain State. Wholesomes will partner with local recreational and community activities as well as community resources such as hospitals for joint promotions and advertisements. We will cater to a diverse market, providing healthy food at a low cost to those through the drive-thru or in the restaurant itself. Menu items will include grilled chicken, steamed vegetable, fresh fruit, fish, smoothies and other items, including the possibility of venison jerky. Contact: Anastasia Heasley, 304-771-0602, aheasley@mix.wvu.edu