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Musemaka Idea Challenge: Center City investment shop Philadev launches free-to-enter global business plan competition

Most people in the entrepreneurial world will wax poetic about the importance of failure before creating a truly successful business, but few are willing to be up front when an idea doesn’t quite turn out as planned. Particularly, when they haven’t gotten to the success part just yet. But Philadev managing director Chris Myers, 45, […]

Most people in the entrepreneurial world will wax poetic about the importance of failure before creating a truly successful business, but few are willing to be up front when an idea doesn’t quite turn out as planned. Particularly, when they haven’t gotten to the success part just yet.

But Philadev managing director Chris Myers, 45, isn’t afraid to admit that he and partner Phil Ives, 36, are hitting the redo button on a business idea competition they launched last November called Musemaka Idea Challenge. The duo relaunched the contest in April after realizing things were shaping up quite the way they’d hoped.

Originally, the international contest challenged young entrepreneurs with an idea to apply for a chance to win a $5,000 cash prize and business counseling from the Center City accelerator and investor, with no equity stake. For applicants it was a race against the clock — the contest would be open for three months or until 200 entrepreneurs applied, whichever came first. Little was required in terms of business validation, but the application fee was $100.

Despite successful marketing in India, southeast Asia, and Europe — Myers said the site was sustaining upwards of 500,000 visits a day — they couldn’t convert the traffic into applicants.

“One hundred dollars means something very different to a college student in the U.S., than to a college student in Pakistan.” Myers said.

Myers says that even though they spent about $8,000 on marketing, they realized they’d have to swallow those costs and lower the financial barrier to entry in order to reach these international entrepreneurs.

Now the contest is free to enter, but it’s a bit harder to apply. Applicants must also fill out an online worksheet that proves a slightly more significant level of research and commitment to the business proposition. After a thousand applicants or one calendar year, whichever comes first, Philadev will judge the applications and announce a winner. The $5,000 cash prize and the business counseling from Philadev will stay the same.

In his ideal world, Myers says Philadev would either identify a new interesting venture to invest in or be able to create meaningful partnerships between contest winners and companies the venture capital firm is already working with.

“We’re happy to grow it organically and look at it as an interesting project and experiment in global entrepreneurship. ” Myer said.

Notably, Myers has seen far less interest for his idea in the United States than in emerging economies like India, so this time around that’s where he’s targeted his marketing. He plans to launch the marketing campaign next week, but almost none of the budget has gone to U.S. advertising. Even though underestimating international has been part of the challenge for Musemaka, Myers sees a lot of untapped potential outside the US.

“One of the things I’ve learned working with international entrepreneurs is that you have to be really sensitive to the difference in the markets. Someone might have an idea that doesn’t seem to make any sense in the US, but that could really be a homerun in India,” Myers said. “You have to be cautious when looking at these ideas and check your assumptions at the door and see things through the entrepreneur’s eyes.”

If the Musemaka 2.0 proves successful, Myers says they may do more targeted contests in the future geared toward finding solutions for specific problems.

For now, though, Myers says the only thing to do is wait and see.

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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