Business Plan Competition Strategy 101


For many students and young entrepreneurs competing in a business plan competition can be completely overwhelming.  In my first business plan competition I was just hoping to get my business plan complete and submitted by the deadline.  Once I made it to the presentation round, I was simply praying that I would not black out during my presentation.  The last thing on my mind was strategy.  After watching and playing a role in many business plan competitions after that, there are 3 strategy tips that I wanted to share with other business plan competitors.

1. Know the Purpose of the Competition – In an extensive guide/blog post on “How to Win a Business Plan Competition” I discuss the importance of understanding what the organizing entity is trying to accomplish by hosting the business plan competition.  There are 3 primary competition organizers:

  • Universities
  • Economic Development Organizations
  • Business Incubators

Each organization has a slightly different end goal.  You need to understand their goals, and then clearly demonstrate that your business can match those goals.  Economic development organizations host competitions primarily to support new companies that can create jobs in their geographic region.  If your business plan says you will create 2 jobs in the host’s state, and then you plan to move to California to create 40 new jobs, you may want to reconsider whether you should even waste your time competing.  You will be at an immediate disadvantage with the judges if you don’t meet the goals of the competition.  If you do plan to create jobs in the area, then you should strategically use that to your advantage.

2. Research the Judge’s Background - Many business plan competitions like to publish who their judges will be for the final presentation day. If you are able to find out who will be judging I encourage you to do as much research as you can on each judge. If possible, try to make your pitch personal to the judges. For example, if you know that one of the judges is a Bank President, and your product or service can help solve a common problem for banks, you might consider using the President’s bank as a use case in your presentation.

It is also good to know the judges background so that you can be prepared for the question and answer section. If you know there is a marketing expert on the judging panel, then you should be prepared to answer detailed questions about your marketing strategy.

3. Demonstrate How Winning Impacts Your Business - Lastly, you should demonstrate how winning the business plan competition would positively impact your business. Maybe winning the competition will allow you to:

  • Develop a Prototype
  • Hire an Employee
  • Fulfill a Large Sales Order
  • Open your Doors for Business

It is to your advantage to make the judges understand that winning this competition will turn into results for your business. The judges want you to be a future success story so that they can brag one day by claiming that your business got started through their competition. So if the judges fear that you might not use the prize money for the business, or that your business is likely to fail, they are unlikely to choose your business to win the competition. Make it clear how you will use the money, and the impact that money will have.

If you keep these three tips in mind as you develop your strategy, you just might have a chance at winning a business plan competition.

About the Author:  Adam Hoeksema is the Founder of ExecutivePlan which helps entrepreneurs create powerful business plan executive summaries.  Adam is also the author of the free guide “How to Win a Business Plan Competition.” 

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