by Chris Shelton, Executive Director of StartWheel.org
Business plan competitions have been around for decades, but they get a lot more attention these days.
Local startup NASONI received most of their very-early-stage funding through winnings from competitions—for example, they won 2015 Start Peninsula and 757Pitch in July 2017. You may recall the Virginia Velocity Tour in 2016, which showcased some of Virginia’s most promising startups, including Hampton Roads-based Hamilton Perkins (who won $25,000). There are plenty of competitions open to the public. As well, many MBA programs across the country, and the world for that matter, are grooming students to participate (and win) competitions.
How do I know this? Well, because once upon a time I lived that life. The University of Louisville’s Entrepreneurship MBA program, which I completed, is specifically tuned to developing student teams, with the hopes of winning startup funding for the students and notoriety for the university’s brand. We traveled to San Diego, Austin, Atlanta, and London (ON) pitching our startup to judges and, in some cases, bonafide investors. Even though our team disbanded after graduating the MBA program, the lessons we learned were plenty, and I encourage the StartWheel community to seek participation in any business plan competition for which you’re qualified.
Ultimately, our MBA company, “Engagely,” competed for hundreds of thousands of dollars in non-dilutive funding and won a total of $38,000. I also competed alongside the founders of Inscope Medical Solutions, who went on to win $100,000 at the 2015 Global Venture Labs Investment Competition in Austin, TX, and a total of $327,000 by the end of their MBA run. They have since participated in TechStar’s first healthcare cohort and are doing big things. The point is, these competitions are a great way to 1) find early stage funding, 2) get critical feedback from industry insiders, and 3) introduce your startup to potential angel investors, venture capitalists, and corporate partners.
While plenty of competitions are open to the public, there are a lot more opportunities out there for student-led teams. For example, here are some of the most notable college-level competitions out there. I haven’t found an easy button for finding competitions. If you Google it, like I did, you’ll probably find this site—which doesn’t appear to have been updated in quite some time. My best advice is to create a Google Alert, and spend some time initially poking around Google to find any current competitions or opportunities for which your startup might qualify.
Here’s a sample of rules and guidelines you can expect when applying to these competitions—the Global Venture Labs Investment Competition has since rebranded and is now only available to Texas-based startups.
Our local 757Pitch competition—held every two months and hosted in collaboration with StartWheel and ODU—is a great place to get your feet wet, with the opportunity to win $757 and a consulting engagement with ODU’s TempO program. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis, and the competition is held the third Tuesday of odd-number months. You can see past pitches on YouTube.
Here’s the winning pitch at March 2018’s 757Pitch event:
-Chris Shelton, Executive Director, StartWheel.org