Business plan competitions , the benefits for all

The Business Plan Competition is one of the major tools for those institutions starting out with entrepreneurship as it provide a promotional platform for creating student awareness, real role models and institutional engagement. A large number of universities and colleges create an enterprise delivery strategy around this linchpin.  From this they can hang workshops such ideas creation, business skills and also more personalized services such as mentoring and accelerators.  


If it is done correctly it can generate a significant interest in the student population, local business and senior management, growing at an annual rate to ensure competitors from all facility or schools within the institution. A true win win!


So why should your institution run a business plan competition? 

Enterprise Ethos

There are very few projects within the university which develops the enterprise ethos of the institution. The business plan competition can be made to work with all academic departments, staff and students to ensure that the benefits of enterprise are understood in the context of the institution. This management tool requires careful development but will product results which will be lasting in changing the ethos.


The development of students out of the class room is important in ensuring they understand that a continual approach to learning in the work place should be adopted at every stage of their life. The process of learning, developing new skills and applying them to real world problems in a creative way is one every degree student has to learn. 

Celebration of enterprise

The awards event should be a celebration of enterprise whereby everyone associated with university enterprise, staff, researchers, students, businesses, By engaging the Vice Chancellor to deliver prizes and keynote speech you can ensure some level of support from others within the university. 

Skills Development 

Students will develop new skills through a competitive behavior and engaging in a number of pre-submission sessions. This ensures that a wider number of students gain experience whilst also increasing the competitions’  finalist ability. This is especially important when dealing with the expectations of sponsors and also ensuring that a sufficient story can be provided to the press. These role models are especially important when developing a sustainable competition. When we look at shell live wire, the press and PR exposure provided to the finalist has always been exceptional, ensuring the further development of the finalists businesses.

Student Role Models

Student peer development is an important learning pedagogy which ensures wide spread appeal when embedding enterprise  into the student mindset. A diversity of business types and annual growth of this growth is an important factor for a student when seeking reassurance for their entrepreneurial thinking and endeavors. 


It is important these role models are seen on event marketing collateral, made available during events and speak about their real life experiences. These experiences, should include The good, the bad and the ugly and should be demonstrated to the students that what ever life experiences come forward, its the learning from these that enables the entrepreneur to grow and succeed.

Business & Alumni Collaboration

It also brings in sponsors from businesses and more importantly alumni. These groups thrive on engaging students, their ideas and being part of the university culture. Once they get involved, they start to recruit students into their businesses, develop knowledge transfer partnership and take an active interest in the students and staff of the institution.


The competition will also create and should involve the institutions alumni of key role models for our student entrepreneurs. These groups of people make great judges, mentors, business coaches, sponsors and advisory board members which are so important in ensuring staff and students understand the needs of business and entrepreneurs.

Internal Collaboration

Opportunities for collaboration on a single project with a large number of internal stakeholders such as the student union, the incubator, university departments and external businesses is very rare at universities. One case study is from the Liverpool university which bases the competition out of the student union ensures the highest student engagement and also attendance at the finals. This engagement then ensures wider student perception of the competition and also from the widest demographics of students, from social sciences to biology. 

Staff Development

The process of running the competition provides a good opportunity for staff development, providing opportunities to run a project from start to completion within one academic year which brings in the skills of marketing, student engagement, mentoring and skills development. The metrics can be easily obtained and understood by all parties and thus ensures a great opportunity for staff.

Student & Enterprise Society Engagement

Using enterprise society for promotion and student engagement is one of the best ways to ensure student involvement and ownership, This ensures you develop a student led approach to the marketing and earlier stages engagement of the competitors which allows them to forms founder groups. There are numerous statistics which show that a team is more likely to win a business plan competition.


The vast majority, even the most success one will admit they would like to Increased business engagement, with students, with research, with course development, with CPD. The business plan competition is the first step in getting businesses on campus and meeting students, from here we can sell in all the other aspects of the university. So getting them to sponsor, attend or engage with a competitor is one the most critical parts of the universities business engagement strategy.


The key KPIs for a business plan competition should be:


  • The total number of student and graduate entries
  • The total number of students engaged on social media
  • The number of schools which enter
  • The total prize money available 
  • The business categories
  • The total hours of skills development
  • The total number of students having skills development
  • The number of businesses sponsoring
  • The total number of businesses attending the presentations
  • Increased student perception in enterprise



The changing world provides us business opportunities

In the news recently Nokia and Mircosoft are teaming up. This is good news for both of these companies as they may now focus on what they both do best. One will make hardware which receives radio signals, which a person can use to communicate. The other will make an operating system which everyone can use. Surely a great day for the consumer, even though they have some development to do before we get our hands on the goods!

I can remember using my first mobile phone, it was a Motorola (1981) and you needed a motor vehicle to transport it. It was a carphone, you could even buy it in a special warehouse. Motorola really did dominate the first generation of mobile phones and no one, not even they expected ever to fail.

Then we moved to the second generation (GSM) and the Illinois based company just could not believe what was happening, even when their European executives told them. As with a lot of businesses they did not innovate fast enough, they did not see where the market was going and they just lost touch with their potential customers. They expected business as usual.

Nokia took over billion dollar market, they had better phones in terms of functionality and also in terms of diversity of style. The mobile phone became a consumer item, sold in supermarkets and everyone had a cupboard full of them at home.

Then we did the 3G thing, which cost a lot of money (in terms of licence bids and infrastructure). Whenever this happens companies become risk adverse and they try and control the business models, partners and also the consumer. The greedy operators were taxing everyone 50%, application, SMS and event the payment solution. The cosy manufacturer-operator-regulator friendship was working. Yes, the regulators all want to keep the status as it keeps them in a job too. So somthing had to change…

Then Apple and Google, who are always looking at markets in a fresh way, thought this has to stop. The internet has largely been free from regulations, so devised a plan to attack.  Providing us, the consumer with better handsets, services and business models.

As a business owner-entrepreneur you must understand that everything everyday changes. You have to both believe in the change and want the change. Be the master of change and feed from it. Just because you are doing well today, providing a great product, there is out there, somewhere in cyber space, someone looking at your business wanting part of the action.

Be faster at creating change than any other business!

Do Politicians create Entrepreneurs?

When a new government comes into power and they don’t have too much money, they look to get entrepreneur to work to generate them more money (so they can work out ways of spending that). So around the world we see Entrepreneurs, Business Growth, Enterprise Zones…  etc being announced by politicians.

So are these politicians creating new Entrepeneurs?

The fact that the economy is on it knees means that the most logically person would think twice between the three news stories, first: government has no money, second: economy reducing, third: why don’t you start a business. Within the 60 seconds news flash, you mind has to say, hang-on your trying to brain wash me into bankruptcy, and maybe you’re right.

The fact is existing businesses are declining, new businesses tend not to, as their cost and staffing structures are more flexible and they can capture new customers who are looking for new service propositions and experiences faster. Those businesses which start in a recession also manage higher growth when the economy starts to increase.  So it’s never been a better time to start a business, keeping these factors in mind.

Those that fail will come into two areas, those that spend money on the wrong things and those that don’t develop fast enough. During a recession many people who are thinking of starting a business will have some form of redundancy payment which they hope to use in developing their business ownership hopes. These people either think that paying for high value websites, marketing material and franchises will automatically bring success. The development of the business and the entrepreneur is very important. We see people who think of starting a business as a similar role, yet with more freedom as their previous job, meaning they can come into the office at 9am and leave at 5pm with 5 weeks off holiday each year. Successful businesses don’t run that way (pop down to the 24 hour Tesco’s and sit, watch and learn) and the extra effort is an important factor in ensuring success.

The message given by a government is taken in on many levels, the basic on is “get off your sofa and make your own job, cus no one else ‘at this point in time’ can and you are the champion of your own destiny (until we get a bit more money).” This message is digested by a vast range of people from 12 to 50 year olds who then decide to make the changes to ensure their destiny is one of self esteem, motivation and focus. There is no better way to live your life and this is why an entrepreneur’s role the world is secure and thankful leaving the politicians just to talk about it.

What business should I start?

This is the million dollar question, and so hard to explain to people.

I always talk about passion and how if you have passion then you will be more successful. It’s more than this, if you do not believe in what you are doing and have the ability to drive yourself 12 hours a day to strive for success then success will not be able to find you. Passion for the product, the service and your customers is a real source of energy, drive and determination which is an enormous help.

However some people have a passion for making money, being financial stable and independent. These people would have the passion to sell tea spoons, or sand or just about anything. For these people I tell them:

Its about Basic Needs

Maslow is famous for setting out people’s needs. He stated that people need the following in the following order:

Physiological(food, water, health, sleep), Safety and Security(employment, finances, resources, family, property), Love and Belonging (friendship, family, sexual intimacy), Esteem (confidence, achievement, respect) and Self Actualisation (creativity, problem solving, acceptance of facts).

If you walk down the high street, every shop is based on one of these needs. The most successful ones are those which basic needs, food, water, health. The more basic the need, the greater the market size, the more people wait it and the better chances you have of selling more and being more successful. There are lots of examples: Bottled Water, Coffee Shops, Hotels, Fast Food….

Take a look at you spend and what products you buy, how can you better or improve on the products you buy?

Its about trends

People are living longer. This means there will be larger population, resources will be have to be shared and will cost more (supply and demand). The price of land, minerals, financial resources and even the virtual world will increase. More of these people will be old(er), more will have an illness, more will need help, more will be in the process of dying. There is money to be made out of each and every stage of life.

People have more money. The rich will always be rich and the poor will always be poor. Be definition you cannot have one without the other. Greed drives one to master the other. Those with money will and always have wanted to live in individual place, have different social clubs and have people to help them enjoy and spend their money.

There will always be people moving around the globe, people will move for work, holidays and migration as they have for thousands of years. Every day China and India get richer and this massive population will wait to travel, have the experience of seeing the Pyramids, Eiffel Tower and Sydney Harbour.

The economies of the world will change to develop new sources of energy which ensures the growth. Do you think China and India have done all this hard work only to run out of energy? With new energy sources come new opportunities to manage, measure and profit from it.

The internet will get bigger, faster. Moores law will continue to ensure we can double processing power every 18 months. Applications will be created which will allow the most amazing integrations of library information, personal environmental data and social interaction. Please remember the words of Darth Vader “All your technology is insignificant to the power of the force.” The force being peoples habits. After all we still live in houses created hundreds of years ago.

In short there are so many opportunities that you just need to look for the one that fits your skills, appetite for risk and aptitude.

Who should be in your entrepreneurial team

Business is about working with other people, it’s about trading with these ‘other’ people for mutual benefit. The successful entrepreneur knows their strengths and more importantly their weaknesses.  It is these lesser properties that they develop a team around them who can compliment and strengthen their abilities. So who do you need?

Every Entrepreneur has to sell and has to learn the trade, but sometimes sales can be more account management, telesales, people management which entrepreneurs tend to lack certain skills in maturing. Sales generate revenue, profit and growth in a business and therefore you need proactive people who can promote the business and generate interest and sales. It may be necessary to look at different business models which incorporate your style of sales, from franchising, selling to trade or on-line merchant. However the further you are away from the customer the less you may make in profit.

The financial management of the business is important in the development of the business, understanding and communicating this to the shareholders, banks and suppliers is a major success factor. There are two skills within finance which the entrepreneur should source, one is bookkeeping the other financial planning and reporting. Bookkeeping is easily outsourced on an hourly or part time basis. Financial planning and reporting is normally where entrepreneurs need help and it here you should bring in someone who can act as a part time financial director. They will be the big gun you can bring out to demonstrate the finances of the business are in very good hands.

Someone has to manage the operations of the business, they are in charge of making stuff, they are the person who gets given the order from the customer and then deliver the products. This may include manufacturing, purchasing, warehousing and logistics. This role is the heart of the business, they make the money, create the value and ultimately the reputation of the business. If they fail, the business will.

The nature of business means we have to protect our business interests with legal documents and enforce our position with legal action. The closer your legal adviser is to your business the easier it will be to ensure you are protected. The relationship you have with this person is important in developing an on-going business relationship and not just ‘calling you in to sort out my rubbish’ attitude. The general rule in the legal world is the fees reflect the depth of the hole the client is in. So no hole means smaller fees.

Every entrepreneur should have a mentor, someone who has done this before, can provide advice based on knowledge. This person is someone you can turn to, you can ask for advice and when things go wrong can help reflect and learn your failures, ensuring your next opportunity is a even greater success.

Finally, the one person which your business could not survive without:  The Customer. This person is an important part of the team, they buy into your business every time they purchase your product. They will offer advice, feedback and recommendations which will be free of consult fees, future contracts or telling what they think you want to hear. Use this amazing group to develop your business and treat them as part of your team.

Now go out and find your team!