Babson scraps business plan competition

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After 28 years of running a traditional business plan competition, Babson College’s Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship has retooled and relaunched its undergraduate and graduate entrepreneurship competition as the Babson Entrepreneurial Thought and Action (B.E.T.A.) Challenge. The change is in response to college president Len Schlesinger’s challenge for Babson’s competitions to be more action and thought oriented than simply writing a business plan, according to Janet Strimaitis, the Blank Center’s managing director.

“It was clear from the results of our previous business plan competition and our entrepreneurial classes that some students will fix on an idea that isn’t feasible and carry it through in a written plan,” she says. “We’re trying to mirror what we do in the classroom and focus on taking action and helping students realize that entrepreneurship isn’t a formulaic endeavor.”

At Babson, every student takes an entrepreneurship class, no matter what his or her major is, Strimaitis says. To put the ideas taught by professors in those classes into action, the B.E.T.A. challenge will reward students for the actions they take to test and refine their business plans based on talking to potential customers, business partners and competitors. Students can’t just sit in their dorm rooms working on a website and expect to win the competition, she notes.

“The competition focuses on awarding points to students for taking action — for constantly testing, learning and revising their business plans,” she notes. The retooled competition completely avoids business plans — instead, students submit a short presentation deck addressing their potential market, expertise of their team members, and their business model rather than the traditional 30 to 50 page business plan.

Competitors will submit their materials to a panel of alumni judges, who will select six undergraduate and six graduate student teams to move to the next level of the competition. Those students will make a short pitch to another panel of judges and will participate in a Babson College Venture Demo Day where community members, venture capitalists, students and others can visit booths set up by those competitors and get more information about the products and services they are proposing in the competition.

Three undergraduate and graduate teams will move into the finals in April of 2012 where they will be judged based on the actions they have taken to test and refine their business and the practicality of their concept, Strimaitis says. The prize money is weighted to favor the winners over the runner ups — both the undergraduate and graduate team that win will receive $20,000 in prize money.

Formerly, the graduate team received a bigger prize than the undergraduate team, but the college found that just as many worthy and actionable business ideas came from the undergraduate side as the graduate side. So they decided to level the playing field and give both graduates and undergraduates the same pot of prize money, Strimaitis added. Runners up will receive $2,500 in prize money.

Photo credit: Babson College

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