Want to win a business-plan competition? A bankable business idea helps, but it's hardly all you need. Here are four tips.
Pick the right contest. If your business has a specific focus on, say, nanotechnology or social entrepreneurship, opt for a competition that caters to that specific interest. You're effectively narrowing the playing field, says Stan Mandel, executive professor of entrepreneurship at Wake Forest University.
Get to know the judges. Once you know which contest to join, "familiarize yourself with the judging criteria," says Mandel. If a competition is growth-oriented or divvies out prizes consisting of venture capital, it's likely the judges will be thinking: Can your business provide a return on investment? In this situation, having a short incubation period — the time it takes to get a product to market — may serve you.
Differentiate. Bill Joos, a frequent b-plan competition judge and founder of Go To Market Consulting, an early stage entrepreneurial consultancy in Palo Alto, Calif., urges aspiring entrepreneurs to switch up their pitch. "It's like advertising," says Joos. "The judges are seeing the same ads over and over again." Rather than embarking on some long-winded explanation of what your business does, tell an interesting story or have some other kind of hook, he says. "You have to change the judges' pulse rates," he says.
It's better to be brief. As far as business plans go, many would-be entrepreneurs think (incorrectly) that more is better, says Joos. "When people write long they tend to get sloppy." Additionally, he says "they think a 40-page plan is harder than a 15-page plan." Instead, choose quality vs. tonnage and be as clear and concise as possible.