Business Plan Competitions

In the course of boot strapping Audiallo, the team went to several competitions. It was very difficult to know what to expect, and I hope this will serve as a good starting place for others who will go on the circuit. Here's Aaron and I with some of our swag.

swag

DFJ-Cisco

requirements: invitation only
The DFJ-Cisco competition was a pitch to DFJ via Cisco's tele-presence equipment. One sits in front of a camera and sees everyone on a TV. It is roughly talking about what you are doing while looking into a camera, but it was a good exercise. The presentation quickly became a discussion, which was good because one can quickly answer the questions that interest the group.

Boomer's

requirements: none
Officially called "Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit", this was mainly a conference; therefore, it was much different from the other competitions which we attended. The focus of this conference is products for the aging population. Audiallo was the only team which did not have a medical device. There were not rounds or feedback; one just did the presentation and then found out.

Moot Corp.

requirements: Win another competition, invitation only.
Terrible experience, but a great competition. We had 6 judges and one was daft, and I am still in awe. The opening line of our business plan and competition presentation is: "Audiallo is a fabless semiconductor company that focuses on high-end audio processors for the hearing aid space." Michael Denning could not understand that we were not a software company. I don't know what he does generally, but it seems to be medical devices. He asked no questions during Q&A and then in feedback he complained that we did not answer his questions. Fundamentally, he did not ask questions which was why they were not answered. I had never been black balled before and it was a terrible experience. If you ever meet this man, run, run, run. If one is so biased that they will not even ask questions, they have no interest in how you can make them money.

The judges are biased towards medical device and pharma, so if you are in those fields, this competition will treat you well. One other unfortunate part was this was the only competition where I received no business cards from judges. Generally, the best part about competitions is who you meet.

Rice

requirements: Student Companies
Texas, everything is bigger. The elevator pitch was broadcast on the radio and was presented in front of 500+ people. There were 200+ judges, and I felt it difficult to explain exactly what we do. I find that Q&A is the most engaging part of a presentation, and without time to answer questions of all 200 judges, I feel that it substantially weakened the strenght of our pitch. The best part was all of the people with whom we could meet. The feedback was phenomenal across the board. If you must pick only one competition, pick Rice; Rice will give you the most exposure to investors.

bottom line: Least offensive plan wins, but go for the people, not the prizes.

HKUST

requirements: international graduate student competition
It's Hong Kong; it's a long way away, but it's worth it as the judges are a different sort than what I found in the USA. They are generally bankers and do not have a technical background. You present on the first day, and then get feedback. The next day is the presentation for the track in the morning. The top teams move on, and the second place teams have another round to pick one. The evening of that day has the final round.

Virginia

requirements: teams must have a Virginia student or alumni
The competition is 3 hours. The top teams are vetted by business plans, and then the top 7 present for 10 minutes with a 10 minute question and answer session. It's a non-stop competition starting at 5pm and ending at 8pm. There were three judges: two doctors with business experience and a software guy.

Wake Forest

requirements: teams must be from a particpating school group, autobids for Michigan, BYU, Virginia.
A one day event, running from 7am to 9pm. The elevator pitch competition serves are the elimination round, and the finalist present to a team of judges. The competition has the best elevator pitch competition ever, as it is in the elevator. The elevator pitch involves a 45 second ride up, 30 second loiter, and a 45 second ride down for a total of two minutes. This is the only competition where the judges have been aggressive with asking questions. We got through 20 seconds of our elevator pitch and only 5 slides of our presentation. It is very free-form, so expect it. Most teams seem to have frustration with being interrupted, but it is also a good chance to show how well you know your market and business. Although the form for the elevator pitch is excellent, the hard two-minute time feel unnatural as you may be cut-off before the elevator opens.

Georgia Tech BPC

requirements: team must have a student or alumni to enter.
The competition is broken up across two weeks. The first round has 5 judges and there were 5 teams in 5 tracks for a total of 25 teams. The judges varied in background, but generally there seemed to be a good mix of start-up experience, and a lawyer. The final round has 6 teams (one from each track and a wildcard) and occurs a week later. The 5 judges: GaTech IP, patent lawyer, 3 serial entrepreneurs. Besides for just the normal competition, there's an elevator pitch and a tradeshow.

Gatech has a few good things going for it: you have enough time to address the feedback for the semi-finals if you make it into the final round. There's enough judges: whether you are doing software/hardware/biology, someone will get it.

University of Michigan BPC

requirements: team must have a student, and only the student may present.
The competition is broken up across two weeks so there's time to apply the feedback. I didn't go as I couldn't present, but Aaron and Luis covered it.

San Diego State University (SDSU) BPC

requirements: teams must be from a particpating school group, autobids for Michigan, BYU, GaTech.
The competition is two days. The first day is the elimination round, and the second day is the finals. The elimination round had 5 judges from the business school and local business. The final round had 4 judges: two biotech, two business.