business plan contests are a terrible idea. investors care far more about founders’ bios. make it a bio pitch if you need to have contests.
I will be heading up to Boston tomorrow to judge MIT’s 100K competition and have a pretty different take on it. The purpose of a business plan competition is to get students excited about startups, which is — as Roger Ehrenberg points out today — critical to the overall startup ecosystem.
There is no cheaper way to get a lot of energy and excitement going than organizing a tournament. That is really what a business plan competition is. By offering a meaningful prize to the winner and having a big initial field it is possible to get a large number of students exposed to thinking about startups as an alternative to joining a large company (or worse yet Wall Street).
Now if these competitions were restricted to web companies, I could see changing the format to a “hackathon” or “startup weekend” style. But I believe that would be shortchanging the range of entrepreneurial activity. So the business plan and the pitch have to be stand-ins instead (at some point in the future I will post about my view of business plans for web businesses).
Incidentally, I have read the plans for the finalists of the $100K competition and am blown away by the breadth and depth of the endeavors and the apparent passion that jumps off the page! I very much look forward to experiencing the pitches tomorrow.