Business Plan Competition Sparks Generous Exchange
Bradley Holden | University Relations | 29 March 2012
BYU-Hawaii’s annual business plan competition concluded its events on Thursday, March 21, after student finalists presented their final proposals, leading them into the awards ceremony. With mounting excitement for the results of the competition, the judges declared Akin Clothing the winners of the Social Entrepreneurship category for this year’s Empower Your Dreams event with Entraide Congo in second place. After the awards were distributed, an unanticipated act of generosity by Ben Howells, founder of Akin Clothing, stunned the crowd. Having already had the opportunity to establish a secure foundation for his businesses launch, Howells decided to switch checks with his runner up, Vulcain Yengo, giving his business plan the funds necessary to get their project off the ground right away.
Akin Clothing is a business founded by Ben Howells from Sheffield, England, a senior studying International Cultural Studies & Communications at BYU–Hawaii. The business helps underprivileged children around the world receive an education by providing them with school uniforms necessary to attend school. Entraide Congo was created by Vulcain Yengo, a sophomore studying Supply Chain Management, from Brazzaville, Congo. Their business consists of a plan to teach entrepreneurial skills through a simple education model to people in his home country of the Congo. The training is then followed up with mentoring to help them establish individual businesses and other ventures.
When asked why he switched his cash prize, Howells said, “The main purpose of Empower Your Dreams is to build off each other in learning how to start new businesses, especially within the category of social entrepreneurship. I know these guys really well, and I really believe in what they are doing. I don’t see any ventures here as competition because what we want to do is empower people, and I feel like Entraide Congo had a plan to do that in a way that we couldn’t. We are just as happy to see them succeed as we are to see ourselves succeed.”
The energy in the room was palpable as the audience rose to their feet, applauding this impressive display of kindness and brotherhood he exemplified through his actions. Yengo and his team were absolutely beside themselves. “This was a complete surprise for us, it happened so fast. When he (Howells) decided to switch the checks, we became so emotional. What Ben did showed everyone that this wasn’t a competition, that it was a conference for problem solving. That is what this school is all about- trying to solve problems, bringing solutions to places where people need help. Congo says ‘thank you’ to Ben and Akin Clothing as well.”
BYU-Hawaii’s student body consists of 2700 students from over 70 different countries. Approximately half of the students come from countries outside of the United States, making it the most internationally diverse university in the nation. This diversity creates an atmosphere that fosters development of problem solving skills on an international scale. Empower Your Dreams is part of a three-step university program that emphasizes Thinking, Planning and Doing. Each fall students gather and participate in the Great Ideas Exchange, an event that matches students with mentors, allowing them to hone their best ideas toward an actionable plan. These ideas become the basis for the business plans presented in the spring Empower Your Dreams event. The mentoring and judging is conducted by successful industry professionals who come from the University’s broad network of alumni, friends, and philanthropists, helping students take their ideas-turned-business plans and get straight to work.
Richard Tanner is the director of the university’s Willis Center for International Entrepreneurship and facilitator of Empower Your Dreams. “Everybody was just completely amazed, many being brought to tears at the thought and prospect of somebody wanting to truly give, as Akin Clothing decided to exchange their check, which ultimately met the financial needs of Entraide Congo completely,” said Tanner. “Both groups were aware of each other and supported one another in their separate ventures. This exchange was a great example of what Empower Your Dreams and BYU–Hawaii are really all about.”