Forget reality singing-show competitions. For the business-minded crowd, there's a growth of opportunity in college-based contests for aspiring entrepreneurs, hoping to catapult their budding ventures into the stratosphere.
"The connections and resources provided by the good ones [competitions] are tremendous," said Steven Kaplan, a professor at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business. He founded the school's New Venture Challenge, which helps launch companies. Competitions "really help the participant build their business and increase the likelihood that the business succeeds," Kaplan said.
Many colleges are beefing up business pitch competitions for entrepreneurial students. These contests are vital opportunities to meet potential investors, gain exposure and develop relationships with mentors. Success stories include known brands such as GrubHub, the food ordering service. And some winning business ideas walk away with millions in funding.
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Mentoring is arguably the most important aspect of business competitions—even more so than the cash, Kaplan said. Apart from providing financial awards, the New Venture competition counsels roughly 25 finalists each year.
"They get introduced to mentors and to a network well before they ever pitch [their ideas]," he said. "So what we're doing is trying to match these companies with people who can help them and give them advice."
The New Venture Challenge, founded in 1996, awards up to $100,000 in cash and another $100,000 in services such as legal help to top entrants.
Win or lose, competitors often "leave with pockets full of business cards," said Mary Lynn Fernau, a spokeswoman for Rice University, which sponsors its own pitch competition.
GrubHub and Braintree, the payments platform, are among the New Venture Challenge's notable recent winners.
"The New Venture Challenge and these other competitions help to prepare companies for real-life next steps in terms of building viable businesses," said Abby Hunt, a GrubHub spokeswoman.
Since winning the competition in 2006, GrubHub has raised five rounds of funding and more than $84 million in financing, Hunt said.
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