Feeling competitive? There’s no end of contests that spotlight and
reward entrepreneurs for their business plans, new products,
professional excellence and more. If you think you can’t win, think
again. If you think it’s not worth the effort, read on.
prizes can range from a few thousand dollars to seven figures. And the
other benefits to you and your company from winning — or even taking
part in — such competitions can be enormous.
Time well spent
any competition — or for that matter, investment — there’s no
guaranteed return for the time and trouble to prepare an entry. But
when there is, well, take a look:
David Becker, founder
of Philippe Becker Design spent two days applying for a
business-excellence award sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.
He entered branding and marketing work his agency did for a local
philanthropy, and landed a new $80,000 account because of the exposure.
Jennifer Elias and Julie Tucker
filled out a 50-page application for the 2006 Make Mine a $Million
Business contest sponsored by Count Me In for Womens Economic
Independence and American Express. The result was a five-figure package
of loans and advice for their game company, SmartsCo, and the attention
of a major game publisher.
There are new contests all
the time. In mid-’06, Product Partners LLC launched a search for the
most innovative new beauty product in the world. The prize: A
business-development contract with the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based
company, specializing in direct and online marketing.
have nothing to lose because at least they’ll get a team of experts
evaluating their product and advice that should be worth thousands of
dollars to them,” says Marina Randolph, Product Partners vice president
of beauty. Finalists will be announced in November.
Attract fresh, helpful eyes on your enterprise
big plus for startups, especially in business-plan competitions, is
being forced to coldly re-examine their assumptions and the state of
their companies. And it’s a chance to have established entrepreneurs
and other experts pore over their plans and point up improvements.
if you don’t win, this process has obvious value. “There’s so much you
learn when you take your plan and present it and get beaten up by your
coaches,” says Tom Kinnear, executive director of Zell Lurie Institute
for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Michigan.
Mazur won more than $25,000 in a couple of business-plan competitions,
including one co-sponsored by Ford Motor Co., and SCORE. “Applying
forced us to update our business plan for the year, which was good
because we had gotten so caught up in the business that we hadn’t taken
the time,” says Mazur, founder of a Plymouth, Mich., company that
markets the Purrfect Opener, a kitchen tool. “And then when you win, it
provides validation and confidence in your plan and vision.”
You look marvelous!
successful entrants advise stressing presentation over your business
plan or other documents. “It’s about ‘sex(iness)’ and a good idea
that’s easy to communicate,” says Tom Szaky, co-founder and CEO of
TerraCycle, a $1.5-million, three-year-old Trenton, N.J., startup that
markets organic fertilizers through Home Depot, Wal-Mart and other
It’s hard to argue with his track record. Szaky
and his partner funded TerraCycle for the first year largely with the
$70,000 they won by entering eight business-plan competitions – and
sweeping them. “Judges aren’t reading the business plans,” he says.
“It’s all in your presentation. We got the judges to sit up and say,
‘Wow, this is cool!’” One of his presentation slides showed a lawn sign
reading, “Organic. TerraCycle Just Applied. Please Play.”
Don’t worry about someone stealing your ideas
course you want to protect your business plan, product prototype or
other valuable intellectual property. So be sure the competition you
enter has ironclad non-disclosure agreements that everyone – including
judges – must sign.
Then quit worrying about it. “In
truth, the process of building your company isn’t about following your
plan — it’s about using the difference between your plan and your
actual results to make the company better,” says Tim Berry, originator
of Business Plan Pro software; president of Palo Alto Software, in
Eugene, Ore., and a frequent judge in competitions. “Nobody else wants
your business anyhow —– and your business wouldn’t be what it is
without you running it!”
Our Bottom Line
competitions and other contests represent a chance to toot your own
horn, learn how to improve your startup — and maybe pocket some long