How Business Competitions Get you Ahead

There’s no question that entering a business competition takes a lot of time and effort.  But whether you win or lose, people who have done it say the exercise of presenting and explaining your business is almost as helpful as the prize itself.

If you win, you potentially stand to gain valuable contacts, exposure, networks, office space -- and perhaps some money or free hosting. 

However, not all entrepreneurs recommend it. Some believe competitions take valuable time from the business and, what’s worse, a bad idea with a good presentation can sometimes emerge victorious.

VITAMIN W talked to three winners of business competitions about what winning did for their companies.

Although she’s won $70,000 in total of three different competitions (Merill Lynch and Baruch, Pace Pitch Contest, and Women2.0’s Pitch), Amanda Allen of Newlywish  says, “Money shouldn’t be your motivating factor. It’s really going through the process, the competitive environment, figuring out how you’re going to make money, and how your biz is going to become scaleable that’s important."

Brittany Haas, of Happily Ever Borrowed who received  $10,000 from the Pipeline Fellowship Pitch, was happy to have a budget for online marketing, which she says has seen their mailing list and conversion rate increase many fold.

Michelle Madhok, the founder of Shefinds and Momfinds won the Make Mine a Million $ Business  contest which yielded great contacts with investors, Amex Open, and gifts from Dell.

BENEFIT #1:  INTELLECTUAL EXERCISE

Haas says, “It’s a great exercise in about talking about and defending your business. The more I talked about my business, the more confident and better at selling myself I became.”

BENEFIT #2:  CONTACTS

Those from the winners circle -- and even sometimes the runners up -- get get to talk to investors afterward.  Haas explains how one of the toughest judges, who doesn’t even invest in her area, still refers her to people or shoots her a note to see if she needs help: “It can be a long tail, you never know. “

BENEFIT #3: PEERS

Madhok, who won the Make Mine a Million $ Business  contest along with nine others, feels she’s been “indoctrinated into a sorority and sisterhood.”  Through it, she made what she calls her first business best friend. Madhok also sees contests as a way to save money: if she can learn from other people’s mistakes, “that’s a mistake I don’t have to make.”

Likewise, Haas also mentions how she met a lot of entrepreneurs  through the process, and “we bounce ideas off each other all the time and people in startups always want to help each other.”

BENEFIT #4: EXPOSURE

As well as getting introductions to prize judges and potential investors, winners also rub up against many other people, including the press.  Madhok got a story in INC, which led to meetings with VCs--and that $1.3 million.  Allen says, “You’ll be surprised by the number of people who want to help you, who want to introduce you to people, or to make connections.”

BENEFIT #5: INVESTORS

Winning Women2.0’s Pitch Startup NY  competition resulted in a meeting with internet pioneer VC Marc Andreesen for Amanda Allen, which itself led to further meetings with NYC funders. 

BENEFIT #6: MENTORS

Not all people lead to gold at the end of the rainbow.  Allen says, “You end up developing relationships with people that turn into a mentorship role, which is really important.” Not many entrepreneurs have a network of people experienced in fundraising who can help them through the process, so these contacts can be invaluable.  Winning the Merrill Lynch Baruch contest got Allen a mentor from SCORE, a national organization that functions as a kind of business Big Brother group.

BENEFIT #7: CONFIDENCE

Madhok says that winning made her feel that people believed in her and her idea.  She adds that “we have a responsibility to Nell [Merlino, founder of Take Our Daughters to Work Day] and  and her vision.”  Happily, Madhok raised $1.3 million soon after winning the contest, thus acheiving the goal of $1 million in revenue.  In fact, 28% of fellow winners reach that benchmark-- compared to 2.8% of women business owners nationally.

BENEFIT #8:  IMPARTIAL ASSESSMENT

Even with an MBA from Fordham University, Allen recognized that “those competitions provide opportunity  for unbiased feedback. It’s not just peddling to your friends in the bar --but to people who can be objective."

After winning three different business competitions, Allen says, "The experience is fantastic. One door opens and leads to the next. The more we put ourselves out there, the more awareness you build about your company.”  She notes that winning a contest also brings you into a community, “The more you give to the community, the more you get.  I make a concerted effort to help people and I feel it comes back around.”  Because who knows? If she mentors someone, that entrepreneur may also turn out to be a triple-hitter.

 

image: © Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com