As the 10th and final presenter in the county Maverick Challenge competition, Conner Burgess entered the room and shook hands with the three judges.

The Brownstown Central High School senior then stood next to a screen projecting his presentation and explained everything about Burgess Auto Spa, maintaining eye contact with judges Andy Hall, Doug Prather and Brett Bevers as he shared details of his own business.

After the nearly 10-minute presentation, the judges asked Burgess a few questions before he exited the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce’s conference room.

It was then time to split $5,000 between the 10 finalists of the high school business planning competition and determine how many groups they wanted to send to the regional competition.

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The judges were most impressed with Burgess’ plan for his car detailing business, so he earned the top prize of $2,000. The second-place team of Trinity Lutheran High School’s Emma Wischmeier, Jacob Wischmeier and Victor Hackman, who came up with Wisch-man Canola Oil, earned $1,500.

Both will give their presentations at the regional competition Feb. 20 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and have a chance to win more money.

Burgess learned about the Maverick Challenge while taking Robin Perry’s entrepreneurship class. He found out he won the day after the presentation while walking into Perry’s accounting class.

“I came through the doors, and she was like, ‘Hey, did you hear?’” Burgess said. “I was like, ‘Hear what?’ And she was like, ‘You won.’ I said, ‘Whoa! OK, well, that’s awesome.’”

He said the entrepreneurship class is not required, but he’s glad he chose to take it because it steered him toward the Maverick Challenge.

“Getting to see that people enjoyed my work, people liked it, thought it was good was really awesome to me,” he said. “It made me very glad that I went ahead and took the class and took the initiative to look over the slides and everything like that to do well with it. It was just really, really awesome when I heard that I was a finalist.”

Since he took a public speaking class as a junior, Burgess said he wasn’t worried about that aspect of the presentation.

“At first in high school, I wasn’t comfortable doing public speaking, even just to my class of people that I’ve gone to school with since kindergarten. I’d get up there and just freeze up,” he said.

“But last year, I took a speech class, and that helped a little bit,” he said. “Then I think a big thing for me feeling comfortable with that was just that I knew what I was talking about, and I enjoy talking about detailing and talking about cars.”

Perry sat in on her students’ presentations during the county competition, and said she was happy with them, especially Burgess since he won.

“He did an amazing job, and he was as articulate as any adult would have been making this same presentation,” Perry said. “It was apparent Conner has a thorough understanding of his business.”

What sets Burgess apart is he has a real-life business, as most of the others were hypothetical, Perry said.

“Conner is a person you would want to do business with,” she said.

The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce started the Maverick Challenge in 2008. High school students from 12 area counties are invited to participate.

Students can participate individually or as a team of no more than three people. A kickoff event is conducted in each county early in the school year, and students later pitch their ideas. Written business plans are submitted, and then it is narrowed down to finalists who give oral presentations.

In Jackson County’s fifth year participating, 28 written plans were submitted for the county competition, which is a joint partnership between Jackson County Industrial Development Corp., the Greater Seymour Chamber of Commerce and Brownstown Chamber of Commerce. Local business professionals helped narrow those down to 10 to present in front of the judges Jan. 21.

Since 2012, Brownstown students have won $20,800 in cash for their efforts in the Maverick Challenge, Perry said. In 2014, a three-member team from the school won the county and regional competitions.

“I have had so many students present who had no idea they could present so well,” Perry said. “It is a huge confidence booster for the kids. I have had more than one student who would barely speak above a whisper in class end up presenting to a business person by the end of the course.”

Perry’s students spend 10 weeks doing research, learning how to make a business call, writing a college-level business plan and using an extensive financial spreadsheet. Students do all of the work themselves, and they can seek guidance from business mentors.

“Students with real businesses understand their businesses better after going through the business plan process,” Perry said. “Also, students who win cash have used the money to further their business or patent their idea. It is very much worth our time to participate.”

Having a real-world validation of their work is an added incentive for students to give their best effort, Perry said.

“These are the students who spend their free time doing market research or spend a Saturday putting together a prototype with their partner,” she said. “As adults, we teach our kids that hard work pays off. The Maverick Challenge reinforces this principle.”

Burgess said he took the entrepreneurship class because that will be his minor at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus. He plans to major in business management.

Once he heard about the Maverick Challenge, he took what he learned in Perry’s class and applied it while developing his business plan. Perry said students try to generate original ideas that are not already in existence somewhere in the marketplace.

Burgess had an advantage because he already had his own business, and it’s unique because it offers mobile car detailing, where he can take his services to the customer.

“There was a lot that I learned that I never would have dreamed I would have learned taking the class,” he said. “We studied a little bit about your marketing techniques, a lot about using social networking. I was already using social networking to reach customers, but just little things that you can do to reach more people, taking the class really just helped build a lot on that.”

Burgess started car detailing at his father’s car dealership, Father and Son Pre-owned, in Brownstown.

When David Burgess decided to close that business in March 2013, his son didn’t want to give up on his passions of being around cars and detailing them, so he started Burgess Auto Spa that summer.

Conner Burgess learned more about the different techniques and products to use to get the best results. He also consulted with professional car detailers from the East Coast.

“Detailing isn’t just washing the car, waxing the car or sweeping it out,” he said. “Detailing is more restoring the car, so making the paint look really nice and glossy, making it feel really nice and smooth, getting all of the stains out, maybe repairing parts of the seats or things like that.”

Burgess offers a full car detail, which includes a wash, a wax and cleaning the wheels, tires and undercarriage on the exterior and sweeping, cleaning and dressing of plastic, light stain removal and cleaning windows on the interior.

The other option is a complete makeover. That includes everything with the full car detail, but he uses an upgraded, longer-lasting wax and clay bars and refinishes the paint on the outside of a vehicle and uses a steam cleaner on the interior. Also, he conditions leather if the car has that type of seats, and he does smoke removal if necessary.

Most of Burgess’ detail work is on cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles. But this past summer, a farmer had him detail five large tractors, a combine, a couple of semis, six pickup trucks and his personal vehicles. That took Burgess and two friends five days to complete.

He said his customers like the mobile aspect of the business. He loads equipment into his car and places a tent around the customer’s vehicle to protect it from the sun and allow him to do the detailing.

“The closest full mobile detailing shop is in Indianapolis. For this part of Indiana, it’s totally a new thing,” Burgess said. “Out on the East Coast, they are really big about cars, really big about detailing. It has been done for decades there. Really, automotive detailing as a whole hasn’t caught on in the Midwest overall well. But I have seen that there definitely is potential to make money in it, and people are definitely desiring it.”

Burgess said he plans to continue with his business through college, but his primary focus will be on his education. After college, he will consider making a career out of it.

“I really like working for myself, and so if Burgess Auto Spa is still something that I can make good money at, then I might go at it again even harder than ever and make it into more of a full-time job,” he said. “I could either keep it going or grow it even more because up to this point, I haven’t even met close to my full potential.”

At a glance

Results from the Jackson County Maverick Challenge high school business planning competition.

First place: Conner Burgess of Brownstown Central High School, Burgess Auto Spa

Second place: Emma Wischmeier, Jacob Wischmeier and Victor Hackman of Trinity Lutheran High School, Wisch-man Canola

Third place: Dalton Miller and David Shuffitt of Seymour High School, D&D’s Delicious Foods

The top two move on to the regional competition Feb. 20 at the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.

On the Web

For information about Burgess Auto Spa, find the business on Facebook.

For information about the Maverick Challenge, visit maverickchallenge.com.

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.