Top Business Plan Competitions

September 24, 2013 at 11:05 pm 8 comments

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 6.29.13 PMSeth Goldman, Honest Tea Founder (and – p.s. – New York Times Best Seller with a new “how to” business book) took the stage at a recent event. “We got our start at a business plan competition,” he said. He praised such competitions as perfect for getting the practice, exposure, connections, and – if you’re lucky – funding needed to fuel a start-up venture.

This post focuses on the top business plan contests in the nation at the college+ level, teen level, as well as resources to help prepare for these competitions.

Top Business Plan Competitions:

MIT – $630k. MIT has two big prizes they give away. The first is what MIT calls “The $100K pitch contest” but – in fact – more than $350K in prizes are given to aspiring entrepreneurs each year through participation in a series of three contests: The Pitch Contest, the Accelerate Contest, and the Launch Contest. An MIT email is required (meaning a student or alum) for entry. Learn more here. Second, MIT also has a Clean Energy Competition which, this past year, was worth $330K. If this is your area, it’s worth reading up here. Together, these prizes displace Rice University as the top on our list.

Rice University – $500k ($1.3 million stated on site – see notes) in cash and prizes. The site states “The Rice University Business Plan Competition is the world’s richest and largest graduate-level business plan competition. ” However, this is $900,000 in investment offers. We are unclear if this is a condition of the investors participating in the contest. Actual contest cash and other prizes is $500,000. To remain equivalent with the other entries on this page, we’ve made this adjustment as no other school includes investment offers in its “prize kitty.” A member of the team must be a student (not necessarily at Rice) to compete. They prefer to have only two teams from a certain university. General site: Learn more here.

NYU Stern – 200K. The NYU Stern challenges aspiring entrepreneurs and those excited by the new venture creation process to take their ideas from concept to market. Teams must have at least 1 current NYU student or Stern alumnus. There is a $150 entry fee. There are three components. A New Venture Competition($75k), a Social Venture Competition ($50 k), and A Technology Venture Competition ($75K). Learn more here.

University of Chicago – $200k in cash and prizes. The NVC (New Venture Challenge) has expanded and now includes four tracks: Traditional, Social, Global, and College. Each team must have a current student, or is a team that previously competed. Useful: There is a “find a team” button. Learn more here.

Harvard Business School – $150k in cash (prizes additional). Beyond the New Venture ($75K) and Social Venture ($75K) prizes. The Harvard Business School New Venture New Venture Competition “provides a unique opportunity for HBS students—working with classmates and others—to investigate and launch a new business venture.” To enter, you need to have a Harvard MBA on your team. Useful for others outside HBS: The “find a team” button on the main page with directions for linking up with venture teams. Learn more here about the New Venture Competition. Read about the Social Venture Competition (teams composed majority of Harvard students, not just the business school).

  • Bonus: There is an Alumni Competition (this information delivered frequently via email, so be sure your alumni info is updated.)

Wharton School of Business – $115 (cash and in kind services). The business plan competition “helps student entrepreneurs and their teams develop and launch their businesses, and provides a network for brainstorming, feedback, and future business opportunities.” A member of the team must be a student at the University of Pennsylvania. Learn more here.

Tufts – $100k. The Tufts venture competition includes traditional and social ventures. “Tufts Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Program has sponsored an annual business plan competition that awards $100k in cash and in-kind services (legal and advisory services) to the winning teams.” You must have a current student, faculty member, or alumnus (5 years out) on the team. Read more here.

Perdue University – $100k (cash prizes). The annual business plan competition encourages Purdue students to develop their unique ideas for new products or services into a profitable business. Student teams learn how to write an effective business plan, while competing for cash prizes. To participate a team member must be a student, faculty, alum or a local resident with a connection to the university. Learn more here.

George Washington University School of Business – 80k. This represents $63k in cash prizes and the rest in-kind services. The business plan contest “was created to give students, faculty and alumni a real world experiential learning opportunity in entrepreneurship.” At least 50 percent of the team must be GW students, faculty, or alums. One member of the team must be currently enrolled. Useful: The “resources” tab listing workshops available to entrants. Learn more here.

  • Bonus: There is a Social Venture Competition (part of Clinton Global Initiative, just announced, amount unknown). For GW Students 2013-2014 Academic year through 2016-2017 Academic year.

We know there are others out there, so please feel free to chime in on some of your favorites.

And now for something completely different:

University of Maryland. $75K in Prizes. Not a business plan competition, but a business model competition. You must be a degree seeking student or 5-year out alum. Learn more here.

Springboard Enterprises. Billions in dollars matched. Springboard Enterprises has matched women-owned businesses with over six billion in capital. While not a contest, per se, they do take competitive applications each year and are headquartered in Washington, DC on the George Washington University campus. Learn more here

Teens welcome:

DECA Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge – While there are no real cash prizes (just a travel stipend to top three winners), this is great pitching experience. You must be a DECA member to participate, however DECA is in many schools nationwide. Learn more here.

Global Student Entrepreneur Awards – $150k in prizes and donated services. For any students that own or run businesses while in a high school, college or university. Selected applicants compete against their peers by presenting their businesses to a panel of judges. All participating students receive feedback from the judges. The top regional and national winners advance to the 2013 GSEA Global Finals for the opportunity to engage with world-class entrepreneurs, receive media exposure, win cash, and share in over $150,000 in donated business services. Learn more here.

The NFIB Young Entrepreneur of the Year – Scholarship Program. Varied – Thousands of dollars in scholarships annually. NFIB Young Entrepreneur Awards are open to any graduating high school senior entering their freshman year at an accredited (not for profit) two- or four-year university, college or vocational/technical institute. Applicants must be running their own small business in order to be considered for an award. Since 2003, the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation has awarded over 2,300 scholarships to graduating high school seniors totaling more than $2.5 million. Learn more here.

NFTE Biz Camps. We see on the timeline of BizCamp there are awards, but no prize money is mentioned. NFTE’s annual business plan competition is for NFTE students only. If the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship does not have a curriculum at your school, you can enroll in a Biz Camp which – at the end – has a business plan presentation and a chance at prizes. For 15 to 18 year-olds. Learn more here.

Preparing for the Contests

Don’t have a business idea, but want one? Or practice pitching? See the free EITC Curriculum Mind Mapping exercise in Module 1.

See the Business Plan section of the free EITC Curriculum, Module 3 as a start. Each contest will likely have their own template or guidelines from which you can mold the EITC template.

See: A Crash Course in Business Plan Competitions, Entrepreneur Magazine

See: Palo Alto’s Business Plan Pro, provided free to participants in the Rice Business Plan Competition (of course, you’re probably covering it in your entry fee!)

See: Which competitions offer workshops, templates, and resources. You could probably use the templates from one, for a contest near you as a starting point if they are posted. These people want to educate entrepreneurs, not hoard information.

More from EITC (Entrepreneur in the Classroom)

More: See the free EITC Curriculum, Module3 for more on business history. Is technology the new revolution?

More Information The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization promoting the importance of small business and free enterprise to the nation’s youth. More information is available at The Foundation is associated with the National Federation of Independent Business; NFIB is the nation’s leading small business association, with offices in Washington, D.C. and all 50 state capitals.

Entrepreneur In The Classroom. The NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) supplemental curriculum exposes students to entrepreneurship and the necessary steps to take an idea and turn it into a business. The free curriculum can be integrated into classes teaching a variety of subjects including music, art, fashion, business and many more. Just register for full access to the Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom curriculum.

Related links

Follow NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Twitter

Like NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation on Facebook

Follow EITC curriculum author Kathy Korman Frey on Twitter


Entry filed under: Business Planning. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Workforce Preparedness and Student Engagement Decisions and Lessons for Young Entrepreneurs Post High School

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