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Enter your startup into a University business competition

Starting a business can be a daunting task - often made all the more difficult by a small advertising/marketing budget and an insufficient network of contacts to help get things off the ground.

It's a good thing then that there is always one fantastic, free strategy to generate some high-quality buzz and exposure for your startup that will not only put your idea in front of plenty of the "right" people, but also, potentially, lead to some much-needed funds, influential connections, and media coverage.

I'm talking about university business competitions.

University competitions help turn ideas into lean, mean, well-connected startups with great potential for profit.

Let's take a quick look at one of the leading University competitions, which recently announced its winners, to see the quality of the ideas young entrepreneurs are putting forward.

UCDavis Big Bang!

UCDavid Big Bang business competition

Recently UCDavis concluded their annual Big Bang! Business Competition designed to help budding startups improve their business plans. The competition, which kicked off last October with a keynote by Matt Flannery, co-founder of Kiva, awarded a record of more than $50 000 in prizes.

This year's winners represent a fairly diverse array of ideas across a range of industries, and an impressive amount of innovation in the mix too.


PlayPatch offers a bluetooth-enabled wearable fertility tracker and smartphone application that is based on basal body temperature, making natural birth control easy. The inventors say the PlayPatch is as effective as the pill and offers a solution for the 6.6 million U.S. women who are dissatisfied with their contraceptive method.

Winner: $20 000, 1st Prize + $2 500 People's Choice Award


ImmunoTag prepares efficient antibody drug conjugates. Its patented platform Linker Technology allows ImmunoTag to link virtually any small molecule to any antibody in as little as 15 minutes, potentially saving hundreds of millions of dollars in drug manufacturing costs, speeding up the approval of its drugs through clinical trials, and prolonging and saving the lives of millions of cancer patients each year.

Winner: $15 000, 2nd Prize

Mariss Biosciences

Mariss Biosciences has developed a simple blood test to detect the presence of immune biomarkers for autism spectrum disorder, and is helping parents determine their risk of having an affected child and allowing them to initiate early behavioural intervention.

Winner: $4 200, Biomedical Innovation Award

Ag for Hire

Ag for Hire aims to eliminate unharvested crops by providing farm owners streamlined access to specialty and seasonal labourers. It will also help labourers advertise their skill-sets, portfolio work experience, search work requests and negotiate wages.

Winner: $3 000, Innovation in Food & Agriculture Award


Eclasstic offers international students and business professionals a ​blended learning method that combines live sessions and an interactive video-based app to build English communication skills.

Winner: $3 000, Global Poverty Alleviation Award

Super Lithium Technology

Super Lithium Technology is developing an extremely durable, high-power battery for automobiles and stationary energy storage.

Winner: $2,500 Clean Tech Award

Benefits of entering college competitions

The winners of the UCDavis competition were interviewed about what they thought of the experience; and it's worth looking at what some of them had to say about the value competing brought to their businesses.

What was most valuable about participating in the Big Bang?

"There is nothing like a deadline to get you motivated and inspire creativity. The multiple rounds of the Big Bang! coupled with lots of feedback and enthusiastic people were valuable in helping us form and cultivating our venture into something with lots of potential to become real business."
Justin Klein, PlayPatch

"Getting lots of helpful feedback from judges to refine our pitches."
Samantha Feng, ImmunoTag

"This contest was a great training ground, and most importantly, meeting a community of supportive business and academic leaders working to fuel the growth of innovation in our region. "
Matthew Vendryes, Eclasstic

"The most valuable thing about Big Bang! is that it helps us to differentiate and develop business from ideas."
Sanliang Zhang, Super Lithium Technology

How did the competition help grow your network?

"My network has grown immensely and I have met so many wonderful people who are doing absolutely amazing things. My LinkedIn connections have probably grown by 300%. We have made meaningful connections with experts who have really helped mentor us and refine our business model. "
Justin Klein, PlayPatch

"The mixer created a great opportunity to meet with business minded students/fellows and contribute different aspects to form a team."
Samantha Feng, ImmunoTag

"Some of our coaches and mentors have become our first customers and referred their colleagues to our business. Helpful? Yes."
Matthew Vendryes, Eclasstic

"Through the competition, we discovered a lot of local business and technology people working/interested in our business, which includes one of our advisers. "
Sanliang Zhang, Super Lithium Technology

Obviously, it's great to win some startup cash to help grow your business in its formative stages, but, for my money, the entrepreneurs who gave these answers are hinting at something far more useful.

The real value of entering a business competition is not winning money; it's making valuable new connections.

More often than not, the judges in these competitions have many valuable entrepreneurial connections they are willing to share. Plus, they may also be potential investors themselves. Getting in front of them can mean the difference between funding and rapid growth or bootstrapping and hoping for the best.

Top University business competitions

Of course, the UCDavis Big Bang! is not the only business competition you should be thinking about. Depending on where you are, the industry you're in, and what stage your business idea or startup is at, there are plenty of great competitions to choose from.

Here's a few more that come from our Top 10 university business ideas award...

  • MIT 100K: The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition has been bringing together students and researchers from across MIT and Greater Boston to launch their talent, ideas, and technology into leading companies
  • Miller Competition Series: The Miller Competition Series prepares students to launch scalable ventures while pursuing their degree at BYU.
  • Harvard New Venutres: The New Venture Competition is an annual student competition sponsored by Harvard Business School’s Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise Initiative.
  • Baylor New Venture Competition: The Baylor New Venture Competition is a two-day, dual round business plan competition and speed pitch competition promoting entrepreneurship and small business development.
  • UW Business Plan Competition: The UW Business Plan Competition is the marquee event for the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Washington Michael G. Foster School of Business.
  • Rice Business Plan Competition: The Rice Business Plan Competition is the world's richest and largest student startup competition.

Have you ever entered a University business competition? What was it like? Did you win any prizes? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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