It’s Time to Re-Think Business Plan Competitions

We need to stop reality TV B-school business plan competitions and get real about business model competitions.

The spring and the fall are B-school business plan competition season, so look for tweets about who won and pictures of those smiling millennial faces holding big cardboard checks.

I think it is time to re-think these events.

1. The whole notion of writing a business plan versus a business model canvas has been called into question given the reality that no battle plan survives the first shot. A colleague suggested “Wild Ass Guess” competition as another way to brand them.

2. Pitches should be limited to 10 minutes. Who, in this day and age, watches anything for more than three minutes before moving to the next YouTube video? Like the hangman's noose, it focuses the mind.

3. The award money should be spent on the business, not be used to finance a trip to Europe this summer.

4. Winners must commit to paying it forward. There should be an expectation that they will contribute money, effort, time, mentorship, or other things to future events and applicants.

5. We should publish rates of startups, success rates, exits, and contributions made to the local, regional, and national economies.

6. We should require that applicants participate in a pre-submission bootcamp to get their presentations ready for prime time in an effort to not waste the time of volunteers who were hesitant to help in the first place.

7. Most of the contestants’ time in front of the judges should be spent “defending their thesis.” They should be required to think on their feet, answering “what ifs,” since that's what they will have to do the moment they walk out of the award ceremony.

8. Awardees should be required to participate in iTeams to develop and further test and validate their ideas. They should be encouraged to resubmit their business ideas in Phase 2 to apply for money to scale their validated models, similar to the SBIR process. Call it the Scalerator Competition.

9. Awardees must agree to submit testimonials, what the Disney Corp. calls Magical Moments, telling their stories not just about success, but how they overcame adversity and failure.

10. Awardees should spend some time in a real startup, perhaps with the sponsors who put up the bucks to help pay for the event, as an experiential learning opportunity.

Business plan competitions, to some, are a waste of time. Instead, maybe we should have Business Model competitions.

Encouraging students to submit pie in the sky plans that have little or no validity, judging them using vague and unproven methodologies, awarding them money that they don't even have to spend on their business ideas, and cutting them loose afterwards means the biggest winner is the B school building brand equity.

We need to stop reality TV B school business plan competitions and get real about business model competitions.