How to Win a Business Plan Competition

How to Win a Business Plan Competition

Business plan competitions can be a valuable part of your startup strategy. I’ve witnessed startups secure over a million dollars in investment at the annual Rice University Business Plan Competition, as well as raise tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars at competitions hosted by the University of Oregon and the University of Texas. This trend is not limited to the U.S. and is now happening worldwide.

A quick web search reveals numerous business plan competitions scheduled for 2022. As someone who has been judging these competitions since 1997, I’ve developed some pointers to help you increase your chances of winning.

1. Understand the judging guidelines

Business plan competitions have refined their judging procedures and criteria over the years. For instance, judges are often asked to consider which entrant presents the best investment opportunity for outsiders, rather than just choosing the best business or preferred ownership. It’s important for startups to tailor their plans and pitches accordingly.

Familiarize yourself with each competition’s guidelines regarding questions, comments, interruptions, plan and pitch length, and other specific requirements. This knowledge will help you prepare effectively.

2. Research your audience

Judges in most business plan competitions usually consist of venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, and local business leaders. Take the time to read their biographies and understand their areas of expertise. This information will be valuable when delivering your pitch and answering questions.

3. Refine your pitch deck and seek feedback

A good pitch deck is essential. It should consist of visually engaging images that complement and enhance your spoken words, rather than serving as mere bullet point summaries. Avoid the trap of reading from your slides and strive for a more natural flow.

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Practice extensively, but avoid memorization. Let the slide images guide the structure of your presentation while allowing room for variation. Seek feedback from others to improve your pitch and anticipate potential questions.

4. Craft a memorable hook

Make a strong impression from the start with a compelling hook. Consider telling a story that highlights the problem your startup solves and use visuals to illustrate it. Alternatively, share your vision for how your solution will positively impact the world.

Hooks are subjective and should be tailored to make the judges care. Focus on the problem your startup addresses, the scale of the need, and the importance of your solution. Additionally, consider emphasizing your ambitious goals to captivate the judges. Put yourself in the investors’ shoes and identify what would excite them and make them care about your business.

By following these strategies, you can increase your chances of winning a business plan competition. Good luck!

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