Business plan competitions are a key part of entrepreneurship education. They provide students with opportunities to develop and practice pitches, network with investors and win all-important startup cash and services.
Below, you’ll find the graduate level programs that offer the largest awards. (Figures are from the 2013-14 academic year.)
1. Rice University (Houston, TX)
Total cash awarded: $1,400,000
The Jones Graduate School at Rice hosts the annual Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC), the world’s richest and largest intercollegiate startup competition. This year, 42 top universities from around the world came to the Rice campus to pitch their startup ventures to more than 275 judges. The competition is structured so that each of the 42 teams is guaranteed to take home cash prize money. Equally important is the opportunity to meet potential investors and receive mentoring from the judges who themselves are successful venture capital investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
In addition to the RBPC, the Jones School hosts five other annual competitions, including the “OWL Open” for graduate students across campus, the “Owl Tank” Competition modeled on the TV show Shark Tank, the Rice Undergraduate Venture Challenge, and an elevator pitch competition for PhD candidates judged by MBA students.
2. University of Utah (Salt Lake City, UT)
Total cash awarded: $744,550
The Eccles School of Business hosts many annual business competitions, most of which are open to any university of college student in the state of Utah. Some highlights include:
- The Technology Titans Innovation Challenge, for students who want to impact the world with new products, science and technologies.
- Opportunity Quest, a campus-wide business innovation competition exclusively for University of Utah students.
- The Utah Entrepreneur Challenge (UEC), the statewide business plan competition and the premier opportunity for students to compete for funding and in-kind services.
- The Bench to Bedside Medical Device Concept and Design Competition, which provides a competitive opportunity for students of medicine, engineering and business to develop a medical device or a novel improvement of an existing device.
3. University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
Total cash awarded: $370,000
Darden School of Business's first major competition each year is the Concept Competition. Hands-on workshops leading up to the competition cover the topics of visualization, systems thinking, empathy, journey mapping and reframing. These workshops enable students to collaborate across a wide range of disciplines, providing multiple opportunities for students to cross-pollinate business ideas within a design-thinking framework. Other competitions include the university-wide UVA Entrepreneurship Cup, a new Effectual De-Risking Competition, and the Business Plan 2.0 Competition, which reflects the practices of real-world investors.
4. Harvard Business School (Boston, MA)
Total cash awarded: $300,000
Run by the Harvard Business School's Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and the Social Enterprise Initiative, the HBS New Venture Competition provides an integrative learning experience for all participants. It is the capstone of the Entrepreneurial Studies program. The prime objectives of the Contest are to educate students in the process of creating and evaluating new business ventures, prepare them for opportunities in traditional and social entrepreneurship during their careers, and harness the unique resources that HBS offers. 2014 marked the eighteenth anniversary of the for-profit Business Venture Track and the fourteenth year of the Social Venture Track. Alumni participate as mentors or judges, and can compete in alumni regional competitions.
5. University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK)
Total cash awarded: $295,000
The Sooner Launch Pad hosts the biannual New Venture Pitch Competition in Tulsa, Okla., and is open to students and the surrounding Oklahoma community. The fall competition in Norman is open to undergrad and graduate students, and offers over $22,000 in cash prizes. It is open to OU students from all disciplines and academic levels. The New Venture Pitch Competition ends with a networking reception, where students discuss their ventures further with local entrepreneurs, investors, and experts. This past year, applicants of the New Venture Pitch Competition include students from over fifteen different majors.
OU students also regularly compete in the Governor’s Cup and the Tri-State competitions, which offer over $250,000 in prize money to winning teams. Students spend 18 months identifying ideas, performing market research, conducting patent searches, exploring and building prototypes, running financial analyses and break-evens, all leading up to this competition. Over the past six years, OU students have won 25 of the possible 44 awards in the Governor’s Cup Competition.