Business plan competitions have been around for many years and are an invaluable resource in shaping your business creation and development skills and possibly earning enough prize money and services to help get your business launched. Many community organizations as well as University-based entrepreneurial programs across the U.S. host competitions. On campus, business plan competitions are wildly popular and entrepreneurially-minded undergraduate and graduate students of all disciplines want to know the tricks of the trade to succeed at these competitions.
It takes a lot of practice and coaching to learn what’s needed. At the Zell Lurie Institute students can get involved in the Michigan Business Challenge – a multi-stage, campus-wide business plan competition – that requires business plan component deliverables due as teams move further along the competition track or the Dare to Dream program offering funding to explore an idea, research the business potential, develop a business plan, and launch. Both programs provide the opportunity for students to team up with other entrepreneurially minded students from across campus to move a business idea forward and to receive one-on-one coaching from Institute staff.
Having a great business idea needs a great pitch to succeed and a key component for any pitch begins with learning how to succinctly plant the seed to start a longer discussion. Professor Tom Kinnear has some interesting thoughts on the topic. Tom is also the Executive Director of the Zell Lurie Institute as well as an investor, board member or founder in starting 11 companies. One piece of advice he has for distinguishing your pitch is to communicate “what it is you are trying to do – that’s big and solves a problem [pain] not currently solved by others.”
Following are key components of a successful pitch:
- A successful pitch conveys the passion of the speaker and clearly articulates the market need. It is well-crafted and rehearsed and stays on time. It is the beginning of a longer discussion that piques the interest of your audience and ultimately convinces them to continue the conversation. The best feedback after a pitch is “tell me more.”
- The ultimate goal of the pitch is to communicate, succinctly but adequately, the service or product you offer as well as describes the solution of how you are going to solve ‘the pain’ and your product’s/service’s unique, value-add offering.
- The content of your pitch should not only address the problem that needs solving and the product or service that will solve it, but also the customer, the market, how the company will make money, the competition, and the company’s competitive advantage. Together this information should foreshadow the future potential of your startup.
Always remember that you are in front of investors and business leaders who often serve as judges and who have the potential to serve as mentors or future board members or to provide initial funding as you grow and develop your business. Whether or not you take top prize, the competition experience, as well as the coaching you receive and the connections you make among other teams and with the judges are all ways to develop your entrepreneurial skills and knowledge while earning your degree.