Organizations around the world run Business-Plan Contests to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. The good news is that these Business-Plan Contests force entrepreneurs to get their acts together because of a deadline, and they are learning experiences that force entrepreneurs to simulate a startup team.
The bad news is that business plans in these Business-Plan Contests are no longer necessary, so you might be using the wrong format. Organizations should run business pitch contests instead of Business-Plan Contests. There are also a set of judges for these Business-Plan Contests, and who read the executive summaries and listen to the pitches to cast their votes.
Another issue is that these Business-Plan Contests are geared toward making startups attractive to investors. IMHO, this emphasis is a disservice to entrepreneurs. What’s more important than making a startup attractive to investors in a beauty-contest format is to make them viable in real life.
For example, by not targeting a proven market with a proven management team and proven technology (the three qualities most investors say they’re looking for an entry might not appeal to investors. But unproven teams in unproven markets with unproven technologies often produce epic Business plan startups.
In the real world, viability is more important than fundability for three reasons: First, you need less startup capital because everything is free or cheap—infrastructure, marketing methods, and tools.
Second, crowdfunding can provide up to several hundred thousand dollars in cash. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the most fundable startup if you don’t need funding.
Third, the hard part of starting a company is achieving viability, not fund-raising. What does it matter if you have the most fundable startup if it isn’t viable?
It’s hard to build a case that’s bad to win a Business-Plan Contest or Business pitch contest because visibility is always a good thing. These competitions are the last bastions of business plans, so you may have to write one to enter, but final judging is based on pitching, so to win one of these Business-Plan Contests, you should focus on your pitch:
PRACTICE. Practice until you’re sick of your presentation. Few people can wing it. The probability that you’re one of them is zero.
“You’re going to win or lose in the first minute or so.”
GET TO IT
Explain what your product does in the first thirty seconds once the Business-Plan Contest has started. Explain the problem or pain that it addresses in the second thirty seconds. You’re going to win or lose in the first minute or so. Remember F18, not 747.
TELL A STORY
Telling a story often works in these Business-Plan Contests. Provide a logical reason for your interest in your product, service, and sector. Stories such as “My friend wanted to sell her collectible toys online” have launched a thousand checks.
Forget trying to prove that there’s a huge market for your product in these Business-Plan Contests by citing statistics and consulting studies.
EVERY OTHER TEAM IS GOING TO DO THIS
Paint a story that’s so compelling and so cool that the judges fantasize about your potential and do the math in their heads.
USE A BIG FONT
The judges in these Business-Plan Contests are probably old and can’t read small text on slides. There’s probably gonna be a large audience in your Business-Plan Contest, so the people in the back need to read your slides too.
USE BIG GRAPHICS
Your competition is going to use small text and no graphics. Think different. Use as many graphics and photos and as few words as possible. Screenshots are also powerful because they make your idea seem more real.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
You’ll know who the judges are in advance. Find out all that you can about them and then tailor your presentation to them. The obvious benefit is a more relevant presentation, but there’s an added outcome: the judges will see that you were clever and diligent enough to have done this.
LIGHTEN UP ON THE REALITY DISTORTION OF THE QUALITY OF YOUR TEAM
By definition, if you’re in one of these Business-Plan Contests, you and your team probably don’t have heart-stopping résumés. Trying to minimize weakness doesn’t produce strength. Just show that your backgrounds are relevant to your business.
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