Millions of dollars are awarded to competition finalists yearly. The world’s largest graduate-level business plan competition at Rice University distributes more than $1.3 million in cash and prizes to student teams. Other renowned business competitions include the MIT Clean Energy Competition and the NYU Stern New Venture and Social Venture Competition, each awarding up to $200 thousand to entrepreneurs.
Business plan competitions extend beyond universities to organizations and governments. For example, the National Clean Energy Business Plan Competition, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy inspired nearly 300 teams across the country to create promising energy technologies. After teams pitched their business plans to judges at regional semifinals and finals, six teams advanced to the national competition to compete for the popular vote. The popular vote/crowdvoting round helped drive more people to the site and view the plethora of energy solutions offered by students and professionals throughout the country.
While many finalists in business plan competitions are determined by judges, there has been a trend to allow either students or the public to vote for campaign that most resonates with them. These student-choice and people’s-choice awards are given to the business plans that appeal most to the larger audience. In this space, crowdvoting platforms, such as those hosted by Launcht, help to not only capture votes, but to also drive interest to the greater competition. Campaign leaders can gain momentum and share their idea and product beyond university contacts.
Crowdvoting campaigns have proven to be largely successful. This past year, the Digital Media Cluster Acceleration Partnership, in conjunction with Launcht, created Salt Valley Tally, a crowdvoting platform for Utah’s digital media innovation contest. The crowdvoting platform exceeded expectations by a tenfold as the number of unique voters neared 10,000. Campaigns were able to drive interest both in and out-of-state. $5,000 cash prizes were awarded to the top 5 companies whose campaigns gained the most online votes (over 950 each) in the 30 day voting period.
Similarly, the Southern Illinois University Saluki Idea Competition was able to engage the community and garner student interest. 13 student campaigns participated in the Saluki Idea Competition. At the end, the top 5 campaigns that received the most votes continued onto the judging round. After presentations, the panel of judges ultimately declared a winner, runner up, and honorable mentions. Crowdvoting in this case served to narrow down candidates for the judging round. In many other instances, it is used to choose a winner after candidates are narrowed down through an application or judging round.
Business Plan Competitions are continuing to grow as they encourage student innovation and entrepreneurship. The Rice Business Plan Competition, for example, grew from $10,000 in cash prizes in 2001 to $1.3 million in 2012. As a result, competition administrators are trying to find the most efficient ways to determine winners and distribute funds. The power and consensus of the crowd has continuously selected well deserving entrepreneurs and will become a prominent phase in business competitions.