It seems to me that if you are going to start a business, you are better off spending the 40 hours you were going to spend prepping for a competition actually working on your business.
Outside of academia, what value do business competitions have?
These kind of competitions seem to be everywhere. Maybe I just have a stigma against talking about ideas while other people are out there acting on them.
What value have you found in doing these kind of events?
I wish I had the many, many hours back that I spent working on a business plan and researching pitching VCs and angels. I could have made big leaps forward on the product.
In my experience no. The direct benefit is marginal at best and if you have to pay to play, then you end up coming out net negative. You do meet some interesting people.
This does not mean you should not practice your pitch. I agree that business plans are not useful for investors but you do need to think through it all for a pitch.
Practicing is important. You have precious little time with an investor and every word counts so find some people that will give you candid feedback. In all the contests/groups I have been involved with, the feedback was lackluster at best, useless at worst. It just seemed they were in it for the buffet and to dangle some scraps of money in front of you.
The other thing about contests or group pitches is that they all want it in some different format. It's kind of make work really and adds zero value to what you are trying to build.
I participated in one mostly because of timing: we were finalizing our first cut on the plan & found out about the contest. Submission deadlines were approaching, and we figured, why not? we could use the funds. In our case, there wasn't any "prep" time - just some reformatting, so it wasn't that much of a distraction.
Value? funds were the motivator. VC's were not overly impressed that we won first place (some disliked that we publically distributed our plans, no matter how much info was removed).
I recall an influential executive at Cooley Godward and Kronish who stated that business plan competitions were not very useful. At the time I disagreed with him. A few years later I think he's correct. I think there are two key risks associated with presenting in a business plan competition:
W.r.t. prep time, keep in mind that preparing a one on one customer demo is not necessarily the same thing as a demo to a packed room of would be entrepreneurs.
The above two risks occur in conjunction with the fact that many business plan competitions barely award chump change to the winner. Granted, there are some benefits such as good PR and sharpened thinking about your strategy but there are plenty of alternatives for achieving those goals without entering business plan competitions.
You might consider taking this a step further and abstain from writing a business plan at all. As you point out -- I haven't found ours to be very useful in the practice of running the business. Our gracious host Jason Cohen don't put much faith in them, and neither does hubspot founder Brian Halligan.
Would you go on the TV show "Shark Tank"? How many hours will you save if the feedback you get from the competition is that your business is an utter failure? Or you actually get some constructive criticism with some good ideas on how to improve it?
The amount of money you earn is relative. Is it enough to live off for one month? Does it cover the rent on the apartment you are about to get thrown out of? Graduating from college with an extra $1000 might hit the spot.