Business Plan Competitions See Explosive Growth

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They go by various monikers—business plan competitions, start-up challenges, and entrepreneurship contests, to name just three—but one thing is clear: events that feature teams of entrepreneurs competing for prizes and business connections are growing in number, and in the size of their prizes awarded to winners, according to Bizplancompetitions.com.

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Business schools, high schools, local economic development authorities, state and federal agencies, and companies catering to small business are all making an incredible effort to encourage and support entrepreneurship.

The popularity of business-plan competitions as a way to help launch entrepreneurs has surged, according to BizPlanCompetitions.com, a website that features the most complete database publicly available. The number of business-plan competitions listed on the site has nearly doubled in a year, increasing from 157 such competitions in 2010 to over 300 in 2011.

Although some of the increase can be attributed to the site’s ongoing effort to collect information on competitions taking place in the United States and throughout the world, BizPlanCompetitions.com founder Joe Hurley attributes most of the growth to an influx of first-year events.

“Whether held on campus, in the community, or online, these contests are increasing rapidly in both number and in scope,” says Hurley. “Business schools, high schools, local economic development authorities, state and federal agencies, and companies catering to small business are all making an incredible effort to encourage and support entrepreneurship.”

Significantly, competition organizers are striving to produce larger prize pools and attract well-known entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as judges. Six-figure cash prize pools, rare only a couple of years ago, are now being offered in a number of competitions, and seven-figure pools can now be found. Shown below are the four independently-judged competitions offering the highest cash awards:

  • Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition: The Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition offers more than $1 million in cash winnings to startup companies willing to set up shop in Michigan, plus in-kind awards that include services, staffing and software.
  • Rice Business Plan Competition: This year, 42 teams of graduate students from around the world will compete in front of 250 judges for more than $1.3 million in prizes.
  • MassChallenge: This year's competition, available to any startup, awarded $1 million in awards, including three $100,000 prizes and fourteen $50,000 prizes.
  • Million Dollar Idea Competition: In addition to $1 million in equity funding, the Million Dollar Idea Competition will give away cash awards totaling $80,000 to United States residents with a startup or early-stage venture.

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Marie Osypian
JFH Innovative LLC
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