U-M Competition Helps Earliest Stage Startups Refine Business Models

The Michigan Business Challenge, a four-month business plan competition sponsored by the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute, kicks off today in Ann Arbor. Student teams will compete for $60,000, gaining valuable feedback and broadening networks along the way. And the public is invited to watch at every step.

Tim Faley, managing director of the institute and adjunct professor of entrepreneurship, compares the Michigan Business Challenge to the March Madness basketball tournament.

“The Michigan Business Challenge is different from any other competition because it takes four months to get through all four rounds,” Faley said. “We use it as a feeder system to other competitions—it’s really fertile training ground.”

Round one has all teams (this year, there are over 40) presenting their business plans. The second round is where judges decide if the business plans are feasible. Advancing teams give their 15 minute pitch in the third round. In the final round, four teams meet with investors, including local venture capitalists and alumni from other regions, to give a three-minute pitch and follow it with a 20-minute conversation where the investors pick apart their ideas.

“I’ve had VCs tell me that 20-minute conversation the closest thing to what happens in their offices,” Faley said.

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