Let's say you have drive, ambition, and a great idea for a startup company.
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The only problem is that you're having a hard time getting anybody else to notice you. But before you give up on your vision for the next great American business, you might want to consider one more option: A business plan contest.
You might find it hard to believe, but business plan contests are not child's play. They are very serious, very competitive arenas in which the best and the brightest square off against each other with carefully crafted plans for startup ventures.
Winners receive multiple rewards and benefits, many of which extend beyond the scope of the contest itself. Although some business plan contests are sponsored by universities and geared toward business school students, many are open to all entrepreneurs, regardless of whether or not they attend the sponsoring institution. If you think you've got the right stuff, here are just some of the things you stand to gain if your plan rises to the top of the heap.
Monetary Awards for Business Plan Contests
If you win a high school bowling tournament, you get a trophy. However, if you win a business plan contest, you get cash - lots of it. Depending on the size and prestige of the contest, your winnings could total as much as $100,000 or more. The assumption is that you will invest your winnings in your startup business and use it to leverage additional sources of financing like loans or venture capital.
Partnerships from Business Plan Contests
Cash awards are nice, but the real payoff for business plan contest winners comes in the form of generated interest among potential partners. As you might expect, venture capitalists swarm around these contests like vultures on the prowl for an idea that is capable of making you - and them - a lot of money. Even if you don't win the contest, you may quickly find yourself inundated with offers for partnerships and strategic alliances that you had never considered before.
As with any competitive event, the winner of a business plan contest receives bragging rights. But the bragging rights that come with this contest provide more than a quick ego boost. If you place well in a prestigious or semi-prestigious contest, or if your business plan creates a stir among the participants, your reputation will be exponentially enhanced within the industry. It doesn't matter whether or not the business you propose ever sees the light of day. If your plan is well-received, it will establish you as someone who possesses the skills competitive business requires. Create enough buzz and you may even be able to write your own ticket in the business community.
A Better Business Plan
At the end of the day, a business plan contest really has no downside. If you lose it's no big deal because you'll end up with a business plan that has been thoroughly examined and dissected from every angle. The judges for most business plan contests are top-rate businessmen and businesswomen with tons of experience under their belts. Listen to their input and integrate their criticisms into a revised business plan after the contest is over.