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New England Biz Plan Competitions That Offer Cash and Connections to Entrepreneurs

Xconomy Boston — 

It seems like every few days since Labor Day weekend we at Xconomy get invited to attend or cover an entrepreneurship competition. This is a good thing. It means there are more and more opportunities for innovators in New England to gain exposure to the business community and investors—as well as a chance to win some cash and other prizes to help get their ventures off to a strong start.

Indeed, many startups in the Boston area have cut their teeth in the business plan competition circuit before raising rounds of venture capital or achieving other milestones. Take some of the past winners of the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition: Cambridge, MA-based video game developer Harmonix Music Systems, creator of the hugely popular Guitar Hero franchise, and the dental imaging firm Brontes Technologies, which was acquired by 3M for $95 million three years ago. And Wilbraham, MA-based FloDesign, which won both the $200K MIT Clean Energy Prize and $100K Ignite Clean Energy competition last year, recently learned that it has been tentatively awarded $8.3 million from the U.S. government to advance development of its next-generation design for wind turbines.

There will no doubt be many more successful startups to emerge from entrepreneurship contests in the region in the years ahead. Some of these contests have been around for years. Others are brand new. But even for those that have been around for a while, schedules and prizes can change from year to year. So we thought it would be a good idea to round them up in one place with the latest information about them we could find.

So whether you’re an investor interested in new companies or an innovator searching for opportunities to transform your ideas or inventions into a startup, here is a list—not a ranking—of entrepreneurship competitions in New England that cater to ideas for businesses in the life sciences, clean-tech, and IT sectors. (Please note that the information came from the contest websites or organizers, and in all but one case I didn’t separate cash from in-kind services factored into the value of each prize):

Babson College business plan competitions

Babson College holds annual business plan competitions for undergraduate and graduate students. In fact, this year the Massachusetts business college held its 22nd competition for graduate students, making it one of the oldest business plan contests in the state.

Undergraduate Track:

Deadline: Dates for the 2010 competition weren’t available online, but last year the deadline for entries was in winter and the finals were in spring.

Top prize: $5,000 (2009)

Graduate Track:

Deadline: Not dates specified for 2010 competition.

Top prize: $20,000 (2009)

Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network Business Plan Competition

MBA students in the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College launched the DEN Business Plan Competition last year, drawing entries from Dartmouth-affiliated groups and startups from all over the U.S. I’ve been told that the competition will be an annual event, but I haven’t received details about plans for the next one. Novoculi, a Dartmouth spin-out focused on a non-invasive blood sugar test for diabetics, took the $50,000 cash prize for first place in the competition this year.

Deadline: Not available.

Finale: Spring 2010

Top prize: Undetermined, but was $50,000 in 2009

Harvard Business Plan Contest

Harvard Business School says it began its annual business plan contests in 1997 for teams affiliated with HBS. The contest has a traditional business track for for-profit ideas and a separate track for teams with a social mission. A cool feature of this contest is that teams that participate get reimbursed for up to $1,000 in business expenses, even if they don’t win.

Deadline: Dec. 18, 2009

Finale: April 27, 2010

Top prize: $25,000 in cash and $25,000 in in-kind services

Ignite Clean Energy (ICE) business plan competition

The competition, which calls itself the most prestigious clean-tech business plan contest in the U.S., involves a year of training and mentorship for entrepreneurs in the clean energy field. Though the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge are leading supporters of this competition, there are no geographic or institutional restrictions to enter.

Deadline: Passed

Finale: Nov. 10, 2009

Top Prize: $35,000

ITEC $50K Business Plan Competition at Boston University

This competition, organized by the Boston University School of Management’s Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization, says it is open to BU students and recent alumni. To get a sense of the caliber of entrants in this contest, here is a story I wrote about the 2009 winner of this annual competition, Novophage, which has a novel approach to treating antibiotic-resistant bugs. The ITEC will hold its $1K business concept competition on Friday, Oct. 30, to get the ball rolling for the $50K contest.

Deadline: Dec. 14, 2009

Finale: April 7, 2010

Top prize: Unavailable

MassChallenge Venture Funds Competition

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced in June that this competition was being formed to spur the growth of innovative startups in the Bay State. The competition is aiming high, trying to put together a whopping $1 million in prizes for its planned 2010 debut. The commonwealth has ponied up the first $100,000 for the competition. Boston-area technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande, Microsoft, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation have also signed on as founding sponsors. (Please note that the dates below are not finalized.) Wade wrote about the big MassChallenge competition back when it was first announced.

Deadline: July 15, 2010

Finale: October 15, 2010

Top prize: $50,000

MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition

In New England, the MIT $100K is the granddaddy of all business plan competitions. The competition features an elevator pitch contest, an executive summary contest, and the classic business plan contest. As previously noted, a good number of teams from this competition have gone on to raise venture capital and bring products to market. Waseem Daher, chief operating officer reboot-less updating software startup Ksplice, winner of the $100K this year, provided us with an insider’s perspective of the competition.

The Elevator Pitch Contest challenges contestants from the fields of life sciences, energy, and IT/Web to boil down their business plans into pitches that last no more than a minute.

Deadline: Passed

Finale: Oct. 29, 2009

Top prize: $5,000

The Executive Summary Contest judges competitors based on a two-page summaries of their business ideas.

Deadline: Dec. 3, 2009

Finale: Feb. 11, 2010

First Prize: Details not available

The MIT $100K Business Plan Contest

Begins: Feb. 11, 2010

Finale: May 2010

Top prize: $100,000

MIT Clean Energy Prize

The MIT Clean Energy Prize is embarking on its third competition for 2010, but it has already shown that it can attract top teams in the clean energy field from all over the country. Contestants don’t have to be from MIT, but the top MIT-affiliated team from the competition automatically takes part in the MIT $100K Business Plan Contest as the energy track finalist. Xconomy has followed the Clean Energy Prize since MIT, local utility NSTAR, and the U.S. Department of Energy collaborated to launch it in 2007.

Deadline: Feb. 25, 2010

Finale: May 11, 2009

Top prize: $200,000

Revolutionary Angels business plan competition

If you don’t mind paying a $4,995 entry fee for a chance to compete for an investment of up to $250,000, Revolutionary Angels in Cambridge has just the competition for you. Last month, Wade drilled down to the bottom of this (controversial, judging from reader comments) business model, in which entry fees are used to make investments in the winners. We’ll see how well this contest design works out for Revolutionary Angels, since this fall marks its first competition.

Deadline: Dec. 31, 2009

Finale: Jan. 15, 2010

Top prize: (Up to) $250,000 investment

Rhode Island Business Plan Competition

This annual competition has traditionally had separate student and entrepreneur tracks, and this year it is adding a “green” track for green businesses. It’s open to entrepreneurs from technology fields as well as non-tech sectors, so it attracts a diverse array of entries. There are only a few restrictions for teams that enter this competition, but one that stands out is that the winning teams have to commit to establishing their businesses in Rhode Island. Also, the competition includes a series of workshops and events throughout the fall, winter, and spring of each year, so don’t be fooled by the late deadline date for applications. (For example, there’s $1,000 in prizes up for grabs at the competition’s elevator pitch contest on Dec. 8, 2009.)

Deadline: April 5, 2010

Finale: May 3, 2010

Top prize: Not available

WPI Venture Forum Business Plan Contest

Worchester Polytechnic Institute puts on an annual entrepreneurship competition of its own, attracting teams from all over the Northeast. Several promising Massachusetts startups have competed in this competition. One past winner of note is Framingham, MA-based Nimbit, which launched a Facebook application last month called MyStore to help musicians sell their music on the popular social networking website.

Deadline: Passed (Oct. 9, 2009)

Finale: Nov. 10, 2009

Top prize: $15,000

YES Y50K and Y2K competitions at Yale University

The Yale Entrepreneurial Society (YES) launched its annual business plan competition a decade ago for teams affiliated with Yale University. Prior to its finals, the competition puts on workshops that are designed to help teams write business plans and such. The primer for the Y50K is an executive summary contest called the Y2K, where a total of $2,000 in prizes is awarded to groups in the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Though the competition is limited to Yalies, it appears to be sector agnostic.

Y2K competition

Deadline: Dec. 6, 2009

Finale: Jan. 18, 2010

Top prize: $500

Y50K competition

Deadline: Unavailable

Finale: Unavailable

Top prize: $50,000 (2009)

As always, please send us a note if we’ve missed something or if any of the information on the competitions listed needs to be updated.

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