Top 13 Tips for Business Plan Competitions

By: Katie Kershman

A team of students from the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA Program  recently finished second in the Camino Real competition! Later this year they will have the opportunity to compete at the national level. GSSE is one venue for receiving a Master of Business Administration at the College of Business. The team has generated 13 tips for a successful business plan presentation that I thought you guys would find interesting. This is relevant for business case competitions and those people interested in getting an entrepreneurship certificate. It provides a bit of insight into what the competitions are like and what it’s like to present your business idea to potential funders.

  1. Stand your ground.

The judges are going to be very aggressive with their concerns, opinions about investment potential, etc. They appreciated that we first acknowledged what they had to say, but also that we stood our ground and demonstrated that we had done our homework and had reasoning for our approach.

2.  Think through the small details.

Even though teams won’t have time to present on everything, the judges seemed surprised and impressed with those who had thought through the small details and were able to demonstrate that they know the ins and outs of the business they are trying to start. For us, this was our supply chain/logistics details.

3. Acknowledge the weaknesses and discuss how you are going to mitigate them.

We took the opposite approach and it didn’t pan out for us. We tried to avoid acknowledging the holes, and they called us out on them right off the bat. In retrospect, it seems better to be up front and talk about how you will address the unresolved issues going forward.

4. Approach from a business, rather than a social, angle.

Stepping outside of the GSSE audience, we didn’t realize how socially focused our message was sounding. We really had to change our approach to “what does this translate to for investors?” The new approach seemed to work out for us.

5. Hold the judges’ hands.

Assume that all judges are looking at your venture from a standard Western perspective. This is especially important for international ventures:Break it down so that they are following with you at the pace you are going. Make them concentrate on what you are saying rather than what you said three minutes ago. As an example, we had to walk the judges through the slum environment we will be working in and describe how smaller package sizes meet the cash flows of our consumers; two very different environments than what the judges were used to that really didn’t make sense without providing contextual background.

6. Have prototypes of your product if possible.

This helped us tremendously in enabling the judges to relate to what we were trying to bring to market. We created a mock packaging prototype and brought a sample of our flour product as well.

7. Interact with the judges

Two things the winning team did that we didn’t do: (1) Provide handouts of our slides with lines for notes so that they can follow along, and (2) shake the judges’ hands and introduce yourself prior to the presentation.

8. Pitch it!

Go first. Make a big impression. Leave your notes behind. Practice, practice, practice! Tailor it to the audience. If they are investors, make it about them:Why is this an attractive opportunity for them?

9. Demonstrate return on investment.

Investors are looking for ten-fold returns on their investment. Seriously!

10. Invest in yourself.

No investor is going to take you seriously if your founding members are not also financially committed. Why would they invest in you if you won’t invest in yourselves? Investment can also be “sweat equity.” Be sure to value your time and opportunity costs into the equity you take in your firm.

11. Be conservative with financials.

Overestimate your costs and sell the worst-case scenario. If you can sell the worst case to investors, it is only up from there.

12. Build your presentation around your business plan.

Your plan is your first impression of your team, and the judges have studied it inside and out prior to your presentation. Make your first impression count. Build your presentation around your plan and try not to deviate too much from it. Too much deviation confuses the judges, and they’ll feel like you’ve withheld information from them.

13. Plan according to the length of the presentation.

30-45 minute presentations are LONG. Make sure your presentation clearly communicates your messages.


1 thought on “Top 13 Tips for Business Plan Competitions

  1. Thanks for posting this…though I wish I had it at my first business competition for DECA. My team and I were pitching a solution to a crisis situation (I believe our hypothetical company had had to issue a recall on a batch of bad pinto beans or something), but we wanted to be creative and go beyond simply explaining our idea and hoping the judges would like it. So, we created a mock PowerPoint presentation and acted as though we were demonstrating our idea through a fake PowerPoint.

    While I still think our hearts were in the right place, our tactics certainly weren’t. The strategy did not resonate well with the judges at all, and we received our lowest score for the entire competition.

    Obviously some of the tips from this post don’t relate directly to our situation, but it was great to read the advice from people who had experienced another type of competition. I now participate in these types of competitions on a semi-regular basis, and I have yet to fudge things the way we did back in high school.

    Anyway, good info. I appreciate it.

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