Sowing the Seeds

University Business Plan Competitions

Where the ivory tower and the entrepreneur meet
By Mark V. Cannice, Ph.D.

University business plan competitions are becoming more and more prominent in the United States and around the world. These valuable and popular events integrate student learning with an exciting environment and provide real entrepreneurial opportunities through exposure to and feedback from professional investors, executives and entrepreneurs.

Many U.S. universities, usually within their business schools, organize business plan competitions for their own graduate or undergraduate students. These events range from creative class projects for undergraduate students to very serious contests for the university's graduate students and alumni that provide feedback from successful entrepreneurs and potential investors. These events create valuable opportunities and memorable experiences for each university's students. Participation in these events is typically restricted to each university's current students and, on occasion, alumni. Some universities loosen this restriction and allow non-students to compete as long as at least one or two of the entrepreneur team members are current students.

There are several regional business plan competitions--for example, The Georgia Bowl at the University of Georgia is primarily for Southeastern U.S. schools, while the Spirit of Enterprise MBA Competition at Indiana University caters mostly to Midwest universities. Additionally, several U.S. universities host business plan competitions that are open to students from other universities across the nation and the world. These regional and national competitions resemble intercollegiate sports in some ways, as they bring together student entrepreneur teams and their faculty advisors from many universities for a weekend of head-to-head competition. These events are typically more competitive than events that are restricted to one university's own students, as the applicant pool is much larger and more diverse. Here are the leading national and international university-sponsored competitions:

Competition Host University Features Prizes/Support
Babcock Elevator Pitch Competition Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina Contestants give elevator pitch of business plan while riding elevator. Travel subsidies and potential equity funding
Moot Corp University of Texas at Austin Most contestants have won other competitions to qualify for Moot Corp. $100,000 in equity funding offers
NU Venture Competitions University of Nebraska Has separate categories for graduate and undergraduate students. $17,500 in prizes
New Venture Championship University of Oregon Emphasizes learning and feedback. $60,000 in cash prizes
Southwest Business Plan Competition Rice University Features many investor and entrepreneur judges. $40,000 in cash prizes and potential funding
Venture Challenge San Diego State University Has a 15-year history. $21,000 in cash prizes
National Social Venture Competition U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University, Goldman Sachs Foundation Contestant plans must have positive social implications Access to network of social enterprise investors
University of San Francisco International Business Plan Competition University of San Francisco Features many Silicon Valley venture capitalist judges. $25,000 in cash prizes, lodging subsidies and potential funding

Hosting these competitions can become quite expensive between cash prizes and logistics, frequently running more than $100,000. Thankfully, funding for entrepreneurial events is available from federal and foundation grants as well as from corporate and individual donors.

In addition to university-sponsored business plan competitions, several business organizations host business plan competitions just for university students. These include:

Competition Business Sponsor Features Prizes/Support
Jungle Business Plan Challenge Jungle Media Group For MBA students $45,000 in cash and services
S.E.E.D. Business Plan Competition TechKnowledge Point Corp. Strong media coverage $20,000 in cash prizes
Venture Bowl National Institute for Entrepreneurship and Carrot Capital Richest Business Plan Competition $1 million in equity funding offers to top teams

These are just some of the many entrepreneur competitions held at our nation's universities each year, and more are sprouting up all the time. They provide opportunities for entrepreneurially minded students ready to get a head start in achieving their business dreams.

Mark V. Cannice, Ph.D., is associate professor of entrepreneurship and director of the USF Entrepreneurship Program at the University of San Francisco School of Business and Management

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sowing the Seeds.

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