Few people would argue that finding viable sources to fund a startup venture is at the very least, a frustrating and time-consuming venture. With the exception of the most credit worthy, traditional sources of startup capital such as bank loans have become increasingly difficult to obtain. And while the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) does not provide direct funding for startups, it does offer a wealth of resources and offers guaranteed loans through its lending partners. But even through the SBA reasonably good credit is essential in order to qualify for a loan. Business grants can be a source of small business funding but the scope of businesses, industries and projects for which they are available is limited and the process of preparing and submitting proposals can be very time consuming. Crowdfunding is becoming increasingly popular as a means to access startup capital but it’s not right for every firm and every industry.
For entrepreneurs wondering how they can fund their business venture, Business Plan Competitions are an often overlooked way to access not just capital, but expertise and resources as well. In a Business Plan Competition, entrepreneurs submit their business plans and compete for funding, access to expertise and a host of other resources (e.g., website design and hosting, strategic planning, etc.). Awards in a typical Business Plan Competition can range from as little as $500 all the way up to $100,000 or more. While some competitions are offered through universities–and are therefore only open to students–there are many others that are open anyone who wants to apply. Here are some examples of some of the different types of Business Plan Competitions from around the United States.
- 2014 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest: The mission of the Governor’s Business Plan Contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the seed, startup and early growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital. Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,600 entries have been received across four categories – advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences. The contest has led to cash and in-kind prizes (such as legal, accounting, office space and marketing) valued at about $1.7 million. More important: Contestants have raised at least $70 million in private equity. The competition offers a total cash prize of $100,000. Visit www.govsbizplancontest.com for more information.
- Arizona Furnace: Arizona Furnace is an innovative startup accelerator designed to incubate and launch new companies created by licensing technology and intellectual property from Arizona’s premiere research institutions. In partnership with Dignity Health Systems, NAU Ventures, NACET and BioAccel, Furnace will be an intensive, six-month accelerator experience for startups; providing them with initial seed funding, office space, and access to top industry mentors. Participants in Furnace will have access to the top discoveries made in Arizona laboratories and the opportunity to commercialize those technologies into high-potential startups. the maximum prize is $25,000 with a total of $150,000 being awarded. Visit http://azfurnace.org/ for more information.
- Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge: Entrants must be a resident of South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, or Palm Beach County). The competition generally offers three tracks: A community track open to anyone in South Florida, an FIU track open to students and alumni of the university, and a high school track for grades 9 – 12. Judges select the top three winners in each track, and the overall top-rated plan is declared Challenge Champion. These winners as well as the People’s Pick winners will be the subjects of a Business Monday cover story in the Miami Herald. Visit http://www.miamiherald.com/challenge/ for more information.
Where to find Business Plan Competitions: One way to find them is to conduct a search using the term “Business Plan Competition.” You can make the search more specific by adding terms such as “your state,” “your city,” or “national.” There are also some websites such as http://www.bizplancompetitions.com/ that aggregate competitions.