15 Best Business Plan Competitions for Startup Entrepreneurs
March 13th 2019
by Marcia Layton Turner
Many members of the WomensNet community have asked us about more opportunities to get start-up money. Well, here’s an idea that might help you.
Business plan creation is an exercise required of many MBA students, as a teaching tool, which is why many colleges and universities sponsor business plan competitions – to help students apply what they’ve learned in class. Winners of these contests often receive a combination of startup cash, mentoring, and other resources to help them get their venture off the ground.
A number of successful companies have come out of these competitions, which may be why more organizations and institutions of higher education have begun admitting non-students to these events. There are also business plan competitions open to anyone, student or not.
If you’re looking for ways to land early stage funding, or to network with fellow entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, it may be worth your time to enter a business plan competition. Winning means money and bragging rights, which can open doors to other opportunities.
Deadlines for entries vary throughout the year, so if you’ve missed this year’s window, next year’s window of opportunity will be here before you know it. Most have no entry fee, though you’ll want to read the fine print to see what you’re responsible for (such as travel expenses).
Here are 15 of the best business plan competitions worth your attention:
For entrepreneurs currently residing in or willing to move to St. Louis, Missouri. Prizes include a $50,000 equity-free grant and free business support services, as well as becoming eligible to pursue up to $1 million in follow-on funding for winners. Idea-stage to pre-Series A companies are welcome to apply.
“Where software startups are launched” is how Codelaunch bills itself, which is a combination competition and startup networking festival held in Frisco, Texas. You need to have an idea for a software product or app to participate, with the prize being training and mentoring. There is also an annual seed accelerator for entrepreneurs with ideas for apps in search of funding.
While not as much as competition as a networking event on steroids, Get in the Ring brings together 150 startups to participate in three days of workshops to “unlock business opportunities” with 350 mentors, investors, and advisors. In Berlin.
According to Jack Daniels, “Pitch Distilled is a multi-city pitch competition…pairing aspiring entrepreneurs with a diverse cast of judges tasked with helping them kick-start the next big idea.” The grand prize is $5,000.
Not quite a business plan competition, MassChallenge involves selecting the “highest-impact and highest-potential startups” to participate in an accelerator program. There are locations in Boston, Rhode Island, Texas, and Switzerland. The accelerator session involves receiving mentoring, business services, and, ultimately, the chance for funding if your company is selected as a finalist.
The Milken-Penn Graduate School of Education (GSE) business plan competition may be the best-funded competition around, having awarded more than $1 million in prize money in the last ten years and sparked more than $135 million in follow-on funding. It is open to anyone in the world, but particularly “entrepreneurs with innovative ideas in education.” Its goal is to foster innovation in the field of education.
This competition is for residents of New York City, the Bronx, and Staten Island only. Businesses must not have generated more than $10,000 in revenue since startup. The top prize is $15,000, plus access to guidance and resources available through the New York Public Library.
Canadian entrepreneurs should apply for the annual Next Founders program, which is designed to help build the skills of the company founder(s) and provide training, mentoring, and access to capital to help scale promising business concepts and companies.
Entrepreneurs currently operating a business on Boston’s North Shore, or are willing to commit to locating the company in the area, are eligible to compete in this annual competition. “The purpose of the Competition is to identify and support businesses who want to grow and expand on the North Shore and thereby build the region’s economy.” The top prize is $10,000, with runner-up awards of $6,000 and $4,000.
This competition is for startups focused specifically on informatics and technology. Two winners receive six months of mentorship from industry experts and $20,000. Five finalists also receive $5,000 each.
This U.K.-based event isn’t so much about winning free cash, but about participating in a free boot camp. The top 300 startups are invited to participate, rubbing elbows with mentors and investors, as well as peers.
The Edward L. Kaplan New Venture Challenge, now based at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center, is one of the leading business accelerators. It is “a year-long business launch program” that involves idea generation, critical feedback from advisors, and pitches to the investing community.
Dubbed “the music festival for startups,” the 2019 Startup Festival, held in Montreal, provides numerous opportunities for entrepreneurs to pitch their startup concept to potential investors. Those pitches could result in funding or enhanced visibility, with the chance to pitch to the crowd or a group of grandmother judges. More than $750,000 in funding is on the line here.
Students are separated into their own division in this competition for companies in the Northeast Pennsylvania region, with non-students in another. Early stage entrepreneurs from the area are welcome and can compete for prizes valued at more than $100,000. Concept must be technology-based and have had sales of no more than $250,000 in the prior 12 months to qualify for inclusion.
Perhaps the best known business accelerator, Silicon Valley-based Y Combinator sponsors an annual competition to identify startups worthy of funding. Successful applicants are flown out to Mountain View, California for meetings and those funded are expected to spend 90 days in the area receiving support services.
Whether you’re looking for feedback on your new product idea, are looking for an advisory board, need space in which to locate your company, or really just need funding, these competitions will connect you with some of the most supportive startup organizations out there.