New to business plan competitions? Here’s where to start

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If you’re an entrepreneur or business student seeking to enter the world of business plan competitions for the first time, don’t be surprised if you’re overwhelmed by all the options. The sheer number of competitions, rules and deadlines can be pretty confusing. Here are some guidelines on how to make sense of this universe, which is growing and changing all the time:

1. Timing: Even if you’ve already written your business plan, it can take months to prepare for a business plan competition, so if you’re sorting through competitions by date on our calendar, look for competitions with deadlines that are at least four months away.

2. Location: There are competitions all over the country and all over the world. Many competitions require winners to locate in or near the area where the competition is held, so think carefully before entering competitions with those types of rules. Also, most competitions require finalists to travel to their location for a weekend long finale contest involving elevator pitches, interviews with judges and presentations. Consider whether you can afford to travel to the hosting university, company or city locale if your plan is selected as a finalist. Our competition map can help you sort out competitions by locale.

3. Teams: Many business plan competitions, especially those sponsored by universities and colleges, require teams of undergraduate or graduate students to work together and be mentored by an advisor. Many have specific rules around how many team members must participate to be eligible, so check the rules before you decide whether to enter or not.

4. Quick overview: The last thing you want to do is read through reams of fine print before figuring out that you don’t qualify. Fortunately, if you click on the name of a competition on our competition calendar, that takes you to a summary that provides some quick information about the rules, a link to the competition’s website, prize information and deadlines.

5. Specialized categories: As the number of business plan competitions grow, more competitions are either specializing in certain business or demographic areas. If your business focuses on a particular niche, such as technology, clean energy, retail or healthcare, for example, it might make sense for you to enter your business plan in a specialized competition. Or, if you’re a woman or a minority, check out competitions geared to those demographics. You can slice and dice the universe of business plan competitions in these and other ways by using our competition list and database.

6. Deadlines, deadlines and deadlines: Last, but not least, is that business plan competitions have more than one deadline. Typically, there’s a deadline by which all entrants register and submit executive summaries of their business plans. Then, there are deadlines associated with various rounds for finalists, which can include a full business plan, presentation slide deck and/or video and presentations in front of judges. You don’t want to make the first cut for a particular competition and then miss a follow up deadline. All deadlines are listed in the competition summary here on our site, which you can access by clicking on the link to the competition listed on the calendar.

Photo credit: KayVee.INC

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    Do you have a business idea or want to enter a business plan competition but not sure where to start? See our list of must-read business plan resources.