The excitement of starting a business wasn't enough to sustain us when it came to the reality

The five of us met as grad students at a campus-wide meeting focused on international development. We came from different disciplines but shared an interest in working with farmers. We became quick friends and decided to launch a business focused on farmers and how we could increase their margins, providing them more money for reinvestment. Everyone loved our idea and we got caught up in the moment.

Over the summer, three of us decided to go to India to work on the prototype while one did an internship with a chemical company and one worked in finance. The prototype looked good and we entered a number of business plan competitions. We won some money and recognition, but as we got closer to graduation, it became clear that we were all at different stages of life and had different levels of interest, commitment, and risk tolerance when it came to launching this business. Only two of us were ready to move to India. Two had too much debt to work for a startup and one wanted to work for John Deere.

As I look back on this experience, I see the profound gap between theoretically starting a business and the reality of actually doing it.

Business plan competitions vs Reality

We had a great business idea. It ticked all the boxes. There was a huge addressable market, it could scale, there was differentiation, there was unique and protectable IP, and it had social impact. We were encouraged to enter a $100K business plan competition. It took our team of four over 20 hours to prepare the business plan and practice for the event.

We did not win but our idea was well-received and we were told we should enter more competitions. We did this and invested another 40-50 hours. We did manage to win $5000. But we had invested over 100 hours!!!!

Suddenly it was graduation and we started asking ourselves the questions we had kept putting off: Were we really going to start a business? Who was ready to move to the low-income country where our business was located? 

It dawned on all of us that we had spent so many hours entering competitions that we had not really thought about the business itself and how to run it. We looked back over all the business plans that we had written and noticed that we had changed the strategy/objectives each time to meet the criteria for entering and winning that particular competition. We knew a lot about writing plans. We knew a lot less about actually starting our business and running it. We also discovered that only one of us was actually prepared to move to the low-income country where our business is located.