Why enter a Business Plan Contest?
It used to be that Business Plan Contests were typically a part of an academic exercise. Student teams developed ideas and then pitched their plans to classroom rivals or a panel of instructors from the business and engineering departments.
Today, many of the popular contests still tend to be associated with major universities such as MIT, Harvard, and Rice, but there has also been a growing interest in these competitions by the private sector and economic development organizations.
Why enter a Business Plan Contest? After all, when done properly, writing a business plan can be very time consuming. A panel of judges you have never met will pass judgment on not only your idea for a new product or service, but how well you define the opportunity and explain the market execution.
The applicants who make it past the first round submission are then usually invited to make their pitch in person to the judges. Presentation and public speaking skills are vital to this part of the competition and tend to be daunting issues for most business plan authors.
Folks who serve as judges in these competitions are usually bankers, other entrepreneurs, professors, or maybe angel investors. This is where “know your audience” becomes important. Pitching an investment opportunity is not the same as selling your product or service.
The judges will want to hear about how you will make money at this venture — not how the product works or an exhaustive list of its features and benefits. Usually the person who developed the product – especially if it’s a tech product – is not the best choice to make the business plan pitch.
OK — so why do people enter Business Plan Contests? They want to win! Monetary prizes — some of which can be as high as $100,000 are a great way to infuse your business with some much needed cash. But, getting the feedback on your proposal from a panel of experts is better. The experience you gain and the contacts you make will be worth every bit of the prize money.
Just for the record, sometimes not winning is still a win in the long run. Before you sink your life savings into starting a business or incur a mountain of debt, a Business Plan Contest is the most non-threatening venue to find out if your idea has merit.