Tuesday, September 25, 2007

MIT's Business Plan Competition: From $10K to $300K?

MIT's annual Entrepreneurship Competition started in 1990, with $10,000 of prize money... so for a long while, it was known as the $10K competition. In 1996, the purse grew to $50,000, and then to $100,000 last year.

The competition has a pretty good track record for spawning companies. While some never make it past the embryonic stage, Akamai Technologies was a finalist in 1998. Direct Hit won the competition in 1998, and then was acquired two years later for half a billion dollars. In 1995, Harmonix (makers of the hit videogame "Guitar Hero," now owned by MTV Networks) was a finalist.

This week, I've bumped into a few Sloan students who've suggested to me that the prize money is heading north again this year...to as much as $300,000. One judge I spoke to said he has been hearing rumblings, too.

Bill Aulet, one of the Sloan school lecturers involved in supporting the competition, said yesterday he wasn't ready to confirm any numbers, and several other people connected to the competition didn't return my calls. Given that the most recent change to the competition was adding a new $50,000 "Development" category, which focuses on businesses that can improve low-income communities or developing countries, I'd expect the additional prize money to focus on a new category -- like energy or the environment.

Increasing the prize money three-fold wouldn't be about convincing more students to enter the competition -- just about anyone with an entrepreneurial inkling at MIT knows about it already, and has plenty of motivation to get involved. I think the increase would have three benefits:

    1. Marketing: Ensure that the competition remains prominent on the national scene...attracts more media attention...makes more prospective B-school students aware of Sloan...and brings in more venture capitalists to look at the finalists and winning companies as prospective investments.

    2. Pocket change: Give the winning companies a bit more prize money to use in their start-up stage, assuming they don't find funding quickly from VCs.

    3. Spark more entries in a particular sector, like cleantech.

With $250,000 or $300,000 in prizes, it seems like the MIT competition would be the country's biggest.... the state of New Hampshire ran a competition with $250,000 in cash prizes from 2003 to 2005, but they haven't repeated it since. Across the pond, the London Business School has a $500K competition, focused on homeland security.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Anonymous Dharmesh Shah said...


Though I think it's great that the size of the award is growing, I have one concern:

From a branding/marketing perspective, I think it's sub-optimal to have the name of the competition include the amount granted. This makes it harder to build good long-term buzz (across decades).

When I was a participant (made it to semi-finalist), it was the $50k. Lots of people likely still call it that.

If I were MIT, I'd change this to something that is more stable:

The MIT Business Plan Competition

Though not quite as catch as the MIT $50k, at least people would use the same term for years and years instead of having to figure out what the current prize money is to call it the right thing.

My two cents.

September 27, 2007 1:52 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home