I’m currently helping someone on Team 4662 (a 2nd year team) with their business plan. She asked a lot of great questions, and I thought that the Chief Delphi community could gain some benefit from my response. The questions are bolded.
Comment below. I’d really like to know what other think. Thanks!
How long did it take you to write your business plan?
I started working on the business plan in October 2012, although it went slowly until we got to build season. The reason for that was because I had just joined the Flaming Chickens (FRC 1540) last year as a junior (I was on General Robotics 3636 before that). I had to learn A LOT about the team in order to write the plan, and I was doing other things while writing it as well. It took me about 5 months to write the 34 page plan that we submitted for the Entrepreneurship Award.
**Who mentored you? **
I knew how to write about a business plan because of an entrepreneurship course I took during my freshman year. The class culminated in a high school wide Tradeshow in which each member of the class developed his or her own product to sell. In addition to the product, we had to write a business plan in order to develop our business model. It seems straightforward, but there’s a lot of thinking that went into that. My experience in that class gave me most of the experience I had before I wrote the 1540 plan.
As for mentoring during writing, I didn’t really have anyone with business plan experience. I had to find my own resources to be able to write it, which I can list below.
General entrepreneurship resources - There are so many websites online that help businesses write their own business plans. Look for those to get a general idea of what your plan should look like. Remember, however, that you are also making a business plan for a robotics team. The target audiences will be somewhat different, and your goals are different.
The business plans of past Entrepreneurship Award winners - These were especially helpful, because I saw what successful plans covered. One especially nice business plan that I found was written by TEXplosion 2789. The plan covered the essentials in a really concise and easy-to-understand manner. Once again, just check out various business plans, make decisions based on what you would tell the stakeholders of your team (i.e. sponsors, the school, parents, etc.).
Teammates - You can’t write a document about the team without understanding it well. Even if you have been on the team for 4 years, just run the biz plan by other team members to get their opinion on what you have mentioned.
All in all, use the resources you can, and use your best judgement in cases where the path forward is unclear. I’d be willing to read over your business plan for you, so feel free to ask me for help as well.
What was a road block in the process? (if there was one)
Since I was the only one who had written a business plan before, I was sort of going off of my basic understanding of how the language of a biz plan should flow. Others on the team who edited the plan often threw in excerpts that sounded like they should belong in more “marketing-style” documents. I would often have a hard time remembering that this was a business document. Conciseness and clarity were the top priority. In the end, I think our plan stills sounds like a marketing document in some places, but I’m working on weeding those out for 2014.
Another issue that came up was finances. The more detailed your financial information, the better. Unfortunately for our plan, the best that we could come up with was not what I would have preferred. Try to make sure that, as the year goes on, you account for every dollar spent, and have a way to access those records. It will help a lot!
How has your business plan helped your team in the FIRST community?
There have been numerous benefits from writing the business plan.
Clarification of Future Plans - This has been a great benefit of the business plan. Once we wrote it, we got a high-level overview of our current projects, and we were able to see areas where we could more efficiently run those activities. Additionally, we isolated more potential opportunities for the team. For example, did you know we are trying to expand BunnyBots to other states? At World Champs last year, I talked to a lot of different teams and stirred up some interest. Three teams in particular want to host it (in Washington, Colorado, and Utah). We never would have realized this opportunity without the high-level analysis of our events that writing the business plan forced us to do.
Chairman’s Award - When the Chairman’s judges in Oregon (and at Champs) came by our pits, we showed them our marketing documents and our business plan. I was somewhat surprised when they specifically asked whether they could keep one of the copies of our business plan. We ended up winning the Chairman’s Award in Oregon. One of the issues with our team in the past had been our lack of communication of long-term future plans. Guess what the business plan cleared up for the judges? The business plan, especially your executive summary, will give the Chairman’s judges more information on what you value about your team because the executive summary summarizes your strengths and endeavors for the future.
Financial Literacy - As you know, we host or participate in multiple events for Portland-area teams. For the 2013 Girls Generation and Rookie Rumble events, we had to recalculate how we could finance shipping the field to Portland ($7,500) while still maintaining our team’s finances and a large event. We had to make some tough decisions, like raising the entrance fee from free, to $200, which caused a few teams to become unable to attend. Fortunately, we were able to find a few event sponsors to assist some teams with the prices. Writing the business plan makes you more aware of where your money goes, and how you might make it go farther.
In what instances is robotics a business? Is your team a business specifically?
I think that FIRST Robotics teams are essentially startups. We have to constantly raise money in order fund periods of rapid development in which we develop technology and compete against other teams. Innovation will lead to success both on and off the field, as members spread STEM and their own teams’ brands. The culture of FIRST reminds me a lot of the startup culture I’ve been exposed to in Portland.
However, we also differ in many ways. We aren’t profit-seeking, but we seek to improve the lives of FIRSTers by teaching them to apply STEM in real life. Additionally, we seek to integrate STEM into the culture of America, which will have a positive effect on not just us, but society as a whole. In many ways, we are organizations that work like startups in order to constantly teach new members, develop robots in six weeks, fund our endeavors, and compete with other teams. But we have fun while doing it (not to say that entrepreneurs don’t) and we are all dedicated to the cause of STEM education.
My team follows these guidelines as well. We try to innovate quickly and efficiently in our robots and our outreach.
I don’t remember whether you were at FIRSTFare, but I gave a presentation on the business plan. I’ve included the link to it below. There isn’t much helpful information (I talked mostly), but look at some of the middle slides to get a really general idea of some of what I mentioned. If I find someone with notes, I can get them to you.
Biz Plan Presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/oregonfirst/first-fare-2013-business-plan-presentation-28566039
Here’s a link to our award submissions for last season: http://team1540.org/award-submissions
I’m willing to look over some business plans for other teams. You can email me at email@example.com. Thanks!