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Do Business Plan Contest Winners Make It in the Real World?

Craig from asked me last week in a comment he added to my Willamette Angel Conference post:

I was wondering with all these business plan competitions that you judge, how many winners or even non winners have you seen turn into successful companies? Are there any examples that you could give?

Yes, a lot of these companies make it. It’s more like half than the one in 10 portion you’d think from the classic assumptions.

I’ve seen lots of these companies launch and become successful, in a much higher proportion than the classic assumption of one or two of every 10.

For example, take a look at this page from the Rice Business Alliance, which has run one of the best of these contests since 2002. The graph here shows the success rate for all of the 166 ventures entered in the Rice contest from the beginning. The trend is very clear. The Rice Alliance says that since 2001 (quoting their website):



  • 66 of our past Rice Business Plan Competition teams are successful business start-ups



  • 192 business teams from national and international schools have participated



  • More than $90 million in capital raised by Rice Business Plan Competition participant companies


Although they make the raw data quite as accessible as the Rice Alliance does, the University of Texas’ Moot Corp, the oldest and most respected of these contests, has to have a similar success rate. I say that because I’m involved with both and the plans and the people are excellent in both. And Moot Corp does post a very long page full of specific successes, with a lot of details. I saw all of the companies they have there from the 2007 and 2008 contests, and I’m not at all surprised that they’ve made it.

I particularly liked cQue, which recently landed a contract with the San Francisco Giants to revolutionize ticketing technology; and Evapt, an automated billing system for software as a service; and several dozen others. They are up and running, they are raising money, they are making it.

To be fair, these two competitions tend to be the best of the best. The entrants are carefully selected. Most of them have won local or regional contests. They are grad students and people in the real world. I’m also involved in some less ambitious business plan contests, like ones for undergrads, that don’t produce a lot of real companies.

And this year I’ve added angel investment, which is a different thing entirely. Like the major academic contests, it is about business plans, ventures, presentations, questions and answers, investors’ points of view, exit strategies, and so on. Unlike the academic contests, there are no MBA requirements, and no faculty advisors.

And specifically, the angel group I’m in, the one I posted on last Thursday morning: there were five finalists that presented to the group. All five of them are very real companies already, even thought they want and in some cases need angel investment of $125K. All five will be there a year from now. The one with the lowest need and least ambitious forecast, a software company called CenterSpace, won the investment. But the four others that didn’t win, led by my personal favorite, Zapproved, have good future prospects. That was also Zaps Technologies, Wicked Quick, and Floragenex. All of these are going to survive and grow.



    I have a business plan that is implementing in my rural area of India (Kolkata). Team name is Samadhan Agro Products Ltd(Govt.Regd).I am a social business entrepreneur but I have 10 class education only. I want to participate with a international b plan contest. How to join I on the program?

    • Tim Berry says:

      Each business plan contest is different and has different requirements. If you don’t know how to search the web for business plan contests that apply to you, then that’s the first step. Learn how to do a web search for business plan contests. Look for ones that are open to everybody and close to you.

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  • Wayne Liew says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Tim. Just like any other myths surrounding business planning, business planning competitions are often seen as an avenue for entrepreneurs to lay out unpractical ideas and what you have laid out with this blog post overturned that.

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