Starting small with a biz pitch contest

Staging a business plan competition is generally a huge undertaking, requiring countless hours on the part of volunteer organizers, instructors, judges, and sponsorship-seekers. If done well, the competition can flourish by attracting a large number of applicants, providing those applicants with valuable resources, energizing the community, and potentially serving as the springboard for new and successful businesses.

If not done well — even with the best of intentions — the competition will founder.

A reasonable approach for communities or schools that see potential value in a competition is to start small. An elevator pitch competition may be just the ticket.

A good example is “Elevate Entrepreneurs 2010,” Isabella County, Michigan’s inaugural elevator pitch competition.  The contest was created by a local non-governmental group of business boosters named Vision 20/20 and is being administered in cooperation with the Middle Michigan Development Corporation (MMDC). Entries are due May 4, with 20 applicants selected to present their 3-minute business pitches on May 13.

The prizes are modest: $1,000 to the winner, $500 to second place, and $250 to third place. We assume the organizers did not have much trouble finding local sponsors to provide that funding. Some level of non-cash support and resources will also be made available to businesses taking part in Elevate Entrepreneurs.

“The goal of the competition is to identify people who have an idea for a new business but may not know the resources available to assist with the growth and development of that business,” said Kathy Methner of the MMDC and Co-Chair of Vision 20/20’s Economic Development Committee.  “The competition will introduce them to various resources and people who can help them.  And, it will provide an opportunity to win a little money to put toward the start-up of the company.”

Michigan has been severely impacted by the economy. Isabella County has fared better than most in Michigan but still could use any boost that this contest might provide. Will Vision 20/20 decide to hold it again next year, or even expand the competition’s format?

“We’ll see how it goes this year,” Kathy Methner from the MMDC told us. “If it is successful then we would probably do it again in a year.”

Kudos to Vision 20/20 for being realistic and sensible. We would like to hear about other similar contests around the country and will be adding them to the database here at We may even try to initiate a pitch contest somewhere close to our offices here in upstate New York. If we do, we’ll be sure to report back on how it goes.

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Joe Hurley is a CPA, author of "The Best Way to Save for College - A Complete Guide to 529 Plans", founder of, and co-founder of He has also recently started making maple syrup.
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