If you are involved with organizing business plan, quick pitch, or new idea competitions you know that it is not only a matter of getting all the pieces in place for an event but also getting excited entrepreneurs to show up. I have the unique opportunity to visit with hundreds of schools every month to find out about their events, what works and what fails. The list could continue far beyond the five mentioned below, but following these basics will improve attendance and get you more sponsors.
1) Host Workshops
Yes, the actual day of the competition is one filled with excitement and activity, but how do we build up to that? Long before the spotlights come on and potential investors take their seats there are a number of things that need to happen. Speaking from the perspective of a recent college graduate, I can tell you that many students are just flat out scared to get up in front of people to share their idea. By hosting workshops that slowly introduce students to the notion of presenting their idea you will retain more participants and the quality of the presentations will greatly improve.
2) Offer Mentorship
One of the most valuable trends I’m seeing is the use of mentorships that are included as part of the competition process. There are a number of great ways to facilitate the matchmaking but overall it adds value to your event and keeps students engaged in their idea if they have to be accountable to someone. This is a double edged sword, be careful to screen your mentorship pool to make sure that they have the time and desire to play the part or you’ll run into some headaches.
Let’s talk about barriers to entry. I understand that many competitions are in place for a specific mission or to gather research on students with an entrepreneurial mindset. Despite the fact that entrepreneurs are wired very differently than your average bear, they too can be lazy. Please don’t require that participants submit twenty different documents, waivers, and printed copies of their business plan just to get signed up. I understand the value of a plan but it can appear daunting to start with and can often scare potential participants away. I’d recommend just a simple intent to compete to gauge your audience and then hook them with the previously mentioned resources.
4) Love your judges
Judges can be one of your best PR tools so be sure to take advantage of them. Since most of them probably own businesses, why not provide them with content for them to display on their websites saying that they support your cause? I would go as far as to say that should treat your judges like mini sponsors for your event. Promote their involvement to the community as much as possible and I guarantee you’ll see better results and increased buzz about your event.
5) Web Presence
I feel like it is almost mandatory to have some kind of web site established for your event, so lets just use that as our starting point. Since participants need a central location for gathering information, event sites are an excellent way to provide value to sponsors but also streamline the event overall. Make sure that you update content regularly and include a list of important dates and deadlines to keep everybody on the same page. Twitter is also a great way to keep people in the loop about your event so if you don’t have an account for your event, take ten minutes and get one setup, you’ll thank me later. In addition, get your event listed on sites like www.bizplancompetitions.com, it’s easy, free, and helps drive traffic to your cause.