Taking a business from idea to reality involves a good deal of attrition, ingenuity, and compromise. But no matter how much these three factors align in your favor, chances are you won’t get far unless you have some sort of funding.
Traditionally, you could get your hands on some capital by wooing the wealthy to support you, getting rich yourself, or persuading a venture capitalist that your idea has potential. But an increasingly available option is to enter a competition.
The following eight contests can supply some cash for your startup or, even if you don’t win, help you better prepare to seek funding from other sources.
Since 1989, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has hosted independent contests throughout the year that are collectively known as the “MIT$100K” (originally the MIT$10K). In the elevator pitch contest, competitors have 60 seconds to persuade judges of their business’ potential. The top prize is $10,000, which isn’t a bad pay rate for a minute-long performance.
The Executive Summary contest compares teams’ two-page summaries of their projects for a prize of “MIT$100K glory” and judge feedback that is helpful for the third contest: the flagship Business Plan Competition.
In the Business Plan Competition, semi-finalists are selected based on their executive summaries. They’re given mentors and expense accounts with which to prepare a 20-page business report and presentation. Only MIT students or teams that include an MIT student are eligible. The winner takes $100,000 in cash and prizes.
TWITCH (Twitter Pitch) is technically an add-on to the MIT$100K, but it’s cool enough to warrant its own place on our list. The contest asks contestants to convey their business ideas in 140 characters or less for a $500 cash prize. Entries are made by tweeting submissions that include the hash tag #100kTwitch, and votes are accumulated by getting others to retweet it.
The first contest took place this year, and the posted standings showed the first place tweet to be:
GE teamed up with four venture capital firms to offer a total of $200 million to startups working on innovation in renewable energy, grid efficiency, or energy-efficient homes. Five $50,000 cash prizes will be awarded to winners of the two-round competition. Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired Magazine is the sole member of the judging panel who isn’t a GE executive.
A great opportunity designed specifically for clean technology startups, the Clean Tech Open provides training and the chance to win up to $250,000 in investment money and services. Entrants work one-on-one with assigned mentors to write an executive summary, which is then used to select semi-finalists. Semi-finalists pay a fee for a training program that includes business clinics and mock judging. The teams submit full business plans and give a live presentation to determine five regional winners and one national champ.
This contest literally asks teams to mail their pitch on a 7X7 napkin. Each team must have at least one woman and one technologist (defined as an “engineer, scientist, mathematician, biologist, etc.”), and their napkin must be accompanied by a two-minute video pitch. A handful of entrants are selected to present their pitch at the annual PITCH Night in San Francisco. Prizes include meetings with venture capitalists and other startup services.
In 1993, BusinessWeek called the Venture Labs Investment Competition (originally the Moot Corp Competition) “the Super Bowl of World Business Plan Competition.” In 2004, Inc. Magazine called it “the Rose Bowl of business-plan competitions.” Whether that indicates a drop in professionalism or an increase in fun and enthusiasm depends on how well you know sports, but it’s hard to argue that the competition is anything but prestigious. Started in 1984 by two University of Texas MBA students, the Austin-based competition was attended by 40 teams from 12 countries in 2010.
Once a small business registers or is nominated for the Love a Local Business site, customers and supporters can vote for them between July 1 and September 30. Votes function as raffle tickets: the more votes a company gets, the better its chance of winning a random drawing held at the end of each month (July, August, and September).
The winners of the monthly drawing each win $5,000 and advance to the final round in which a panel of judges selects the business most “loved by its customers, vendors, employees, or local community” to receive a $25,000 grant.
Startups that use Amazon’s cloud computing infrastructure to run their business can compete to win a global prize of $50,000 in cash or in AWS credits and mentoring support, including a year of AWS Premium Gold Support. Fifteen regional semi-finalists and six overall finalists will also receive prizes.
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