Are you wondering what you need to win a business plan competition? While having an innovative business idea is important, being able to finance that idea is just as important. Loans and business grants are equally helpful, but there are more profitable ways of attracting investors and getting the funds your company needs.
Business plan competitions, which are well-capitalized but underutilized, are the perfect platform for growing entrepreneurs. They allow teams to showcase their businesses and demonstrate why the services or products they offer are deserving of the first-place title.
Every year, thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs across the United States and the world participate in highly competitive and greatly rewarding business plan competitions.
While not every competing team wins a prize, let alone the main award, the experience and confidence gained from participating in a business plan competition are invaluable.
Whether they are part of a collegiate level competition—like the coveted Rice University Business Plan Competition, or a world-wide competition like Unknown Group’s Get in the Ring, the preparation, networking opportunities, mentorship, and feedback entrepreneurs can receive from industry experts during the competition can be even more worthwhile.
If you are looking to accompany those benefits with a big check for $200,000, then you need more than just participation. Winning a business plan competition requires a lot of research, planning, and effort. Adhering to the following steps could help you and your team reach your decided goal.
1. Find the Right Competition
When it comes to business plan competitions, there are hundreds and hundreds to choose from, both at local, state, national, and international levels. Other divisions exist for high school and college students. But despite the endless number of options available, not all of them will match your business.
Each competition varies in criteria, awarded funds, and the number of participants allowed. Most collegiate level business competitions limit participation to ventures founded by students or alumni of said college or university.
Some, like Rice and MIT, allow nonstudents to participate as long as a specific number of students currently registered at the university are also part of the team.
Other competitions limit participation to businesses that have surpassed a certain amount of annual gross revenue, companies that have raised a certain amount of funding, or that have been established for a certain amount of years.
An additional, and perhaps, the most important restriction is the type of business the competition is catered to. Many others focus on technology and other artificial intelligence solutions. Others focus on sustainable solutions for many industries.
Thoroughly reading the terms of eligibility of every competition listing you encounter will save you a world of disappointment and waste of your time and effort.
2. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
You might have complete confidence in your current business plan that perhaps you took out of a great business templates site, but that does not mean it has already reached its highest potential. Sit down with your team and review every part of your plan, from the executive summary to market research to the financial plan.
Your plan is the best representation of your business and might be the only presentation of it that future investments will ever see. If you have yet to create a business plan for your new venture, take your time.
While certain sections can be completed in short amounts of time, it would be impossible to conduct award-worthy market research in just a couple of weeks. Your plan is meant to show your team’s idea and demonstrate that it can actually be executed.
Work on every section of the plan as if your life depended on it. The more you focus on the work, the better you will know your company. The better you know it, the better you will be able to represent it.
Hit the highlights in your executive summary, mention your research, and make sure to support your numbers with facts. No matter the competition, the plan should not exceed 12 pages. This will show the judges that you can be concise and compelling without having to detail every aspect of your venture.
Preparing your team is equally important. Judges and venture capitalists will be interested in knowing who will be in charge of each aspect of their investment.
If there is a certain position that has yet to be covered because of budget cuts, mention it in your presentation. This will assure those interested that their funds will help the organization work even further.
3. Work on Your Pitch
No one wants to listen to a long and repetitive presentation. The competition judges are renowned professionals who have listened to thousands of successful and rejected pitch decks. Do not make them feel like they are wasting their time on your proposal.
Your content should be succinct, hitting only the most important facts about your business. Focus on the problem at hand, the way you hope to solve it, how your solution is better than the competition, and how your customers will benefit from it.
During your application period, you will notice many competitions allow for a 60 to 120 seconds pitch. While this seems extremely short, being able to present everything you do in such an elevator format will help you better understand the judges.
For a winning pitch deck to help you here, take a look at the template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash.
In addition to the content of your proposal, work on the way you present. Your body language and the way you portray yourself can invite people to listen or cause them to completely reject your idea. Your team’s articulation is equally important. No matter how little time you may have available to present, your clarity should not be affected. Take time to focus on your pacing and pronunciation.
Do not forget about your slide presentation. Make sure it is aesthetically pleasing. Study Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule to avoid visual clutter.