Business Plan Contest

Business-plan competitions have expanded into elevator pitch battles and industry-specific contests. When a UCLA team won the 2005 Rice University Business-Plan Competition, it received a 0,000 investment prize to launch the tech company Auditude.

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Dig Deeper: Understanding the Consumer of the Future Winning a Business-Plan Competition: Be an Expert on Your Product and its Market Holly has seen teams mistakenly choose the data they have instead of setting out to find the data they need. "If the entrepreneur is really doing it, not just presenting an idea but has put a lot of effort into making it happen already in real life and could use the funding to move their business forward, that carries a lot of weight with the judges," Behnke says. "Even if it's a prototype you mock up in your dorm room that's put together with tape and rubber bands," Mitchell says, "You're going to learn more by having something out there." One pet peeve that nearly every judge has is teams that present their idea and say that there is no competition in the space.

"That's always a red flag because investors will say either you're completely clueless or it means that there's no market," Holly says.

With that kind of money and influence at stake, here is insider advice from organizers, judges, and competitors: Winning a Business-Plan Competition: Pick a Strong Team Megan Mitchell, senior associate director of entrepreneurial programs at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, helps students manage the Wharton Business-Plan Competition.

"Make sure you look outside your closest friends for your teammates," she says. "If you're a med student, find a business student who might be interested in helping you commercialize your idea." Internal friction and bickering can be devastating.

"In those cases, it's a much better opportunity for a new entrant to make some headway," he says.

In 2006, when the online gaming was just taking off, Cassidy sold his online gaming startup Xfire to MTV Networks for 2 million. Mitchell says she's seen many students tempted to hold ideas close to the vest and ask everyone around them to sign non-disclosure agreements."Find some way to have a stressful situation where you can see how your teammates are going to react." Those who can rebound easily make ideal teammates—and future colleagues.Winning a Business-Plan Competition: Look for Turmoil Cassidy suggests looking for a business opportunity in an area where there's some sort of turmoil, confusion, or rapid growth.If the main selling point is a cheaper product, beware."That's not a competitive advantage, especially for someone coming into the market, unless you're ten times cheaper," Holly says."I wish someone had really told me, 'Forget everything else and just make sure you get the most amazing people on the team,'" Cassidy says.He recommends looking for smart, hard workers who are team players.Investors are looking for teams with sustainable advantages, he says."Hopefully if they have a technology, they have a patent on the technology." Dig Deeper: The Best Industries for Starting a Business Right Now Winning a Business-Plan Competition: Use Your Resources to Plan Well Luke Behnke is a second year MBA student at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and one of the directors of the school's 0K Entrepreneurship Competition.Having been on both sides of a contest, she recommends getting in a customer-oriented mindset."It's not a solution looking for a problem," she says.

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