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Monthly Archives: January 2017

6 Business Plan Competitions for Entrepreneurs

The entrepreneurial spirit is rooted in innovation and competition. Given this drive to succeed, it’s no wonder that competitions rewarding entrepreneurs for their business plans and pitches are popping up all over the country.

Throughout the year, schools and organizations allow early stage startups and aspiring entrepreneurs to present their new business ideas and plans to panels of industry-renowned judges, for a chance to win some much-needed funding. Even if these entrepreneurs don’t win the grand prize, the competitors still get the opportunity to network with leaders and innovators in their industries, and share ideas with fellow entrepreneurs and mentors.

If you’re thinking of applying to a business plan competition, here are six great options open to entrepreneurs in any state.

Location: Waco, Texas

Website: http://www.baylor.edu/business/newventurecompetition/

The Baylor New Business Venture Competition features current students and recent alumni of any accredited university across the nation competing in one of two tracks: consumer and internet technology companies, and nontechnology companies. Companies in the technology track must fall into categories such as internet security, social media and mobile commerce. There is a preliminary round, followed by three presentation rounds. The top teams from both tracks will compete against each other for the cash grand prize of $60,000.

Location: Savannah, Georgia

Website: https://www.thecreativecoast.org/programs/fastpitch/

The Creative Coast’s FastPitch competition offers student entrepreneurs, service-based entrepreneurs and product-based entrepreneurs the chance to show off their innovative ideas via a 3-minute pitch. Local community leaders, academics and investors will assess the viability of each venture and provide coaching and feedback throughout the process.

Location: Austin, Texas

Website: http://www.hatchpitch.com/

Since 2012, HATCH Pitch has been an official SXSW event. In 2016, it branched out to become an independent program and event. This competition is for startups using information technology to make life better. Finalists are chosen and receive coaching and mentoring leading up to their demo day, when finalists present their business plans to a prestigious judging panel of corporate, angel and venture investors. Panel members provide feedback and select winners in which they would invest a virtual $1 million.

Location: Multiple international locations

Website: http://www.innovationworldcup.com/

The Innovation World Cup Series is a collection of international competitions in a variety of technology categories like wearable technology (WT), theinternet of things (IoT), cloud technology and digital marketing. Entrepreneurs in each category get the chance to present their tech solutions to a panel of industry experts. With prizes worth over $300,000, the competition is designed to stimulate and inspire next-generation solutions with the potential for real marketable products. The next event is the WT Innovation World Cup, being held in Munich, Germany, in February 2017.

Location: Santa Clara, California

Website: http://www.boomerventuresummit.com/index/competition/

This Silicon Valley Boomer Venture Summit is geared toward business ideas that show potential for the baby boomer generation. Early stage entrepreneurs in all industries are welcome to submit 10-slide-deck business plans to the first round of judges at Santa Clara University. Finalists then present their slide shows in person at the summit to be considered for the top prize.

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Website: https://veinternational.org/national-online-competitions/

This business plan competition brings together some of the best and brightest student leaders and future entrepreneurs at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. Teams representing 28 virtual enterprise companies — simulated businesses set up and run by students for educational purposes — submit written business plans and give oral presentations that are judged by industry professionals and educators. After receiving top honors in local and regional business plan competitions during the school year, these teams earn the chance to compete.

5 Trends Fueling Big Growth for Small Business

Propelled by access to new technology, a changing workforce and easier opportunities to reach a larger audience, small business growth is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, new research finds.

According to a study from Intuit andEmergent Research, the number of small businesses are projected to increase to 42 million by 2026, up from this year’s 30 million. The 3.3 percent annual growth rate over the next decade is significantly higher than the 2 percent average growth between 2004 and 2014, the most recent data available.

While the number of small businesses will grow over the next decade, their size is actually getting smaller. The research found that the average size of small businesses dropped by 20 percent between 2001 and 2014. Specifically, in 2001, the average small business started with 6.5 employees. In 2014, the number shrank to just four employees.

“The next few years will see an acceleration in the number of small and micro businesses, thanks in large part to new technologies that reduce the costs and risks of operating a small business and open up access to customers around the world,” Steve King, a partner at Emergent Research, said in a statement. “While running a business is always going to be tough work, economic and technological changes are making it easier and cheaper to start and operate a successful small business.”

The study’s authors highlight five key reasons that will not only fuel the growth of small businesses, but will allow them to compete with big businesses like never before.

  1. Top-notch technology: Small businesses now have the ability to build sophisticated business and technology infrastructures that previously were only available to large companies. Cloud computing and manufacturing and distributing capabilities are now available with a cost structure that allows small businesses to scale up and down and only pay for what they use.
  2. Deeper insight:  Access to insightful data is giving small businesses the capability of gaining deeper customer and business insights. Access to machine learning has taken away much of the complexity of data analysis, which allows small businesses to make faster and better decisions.
  3. The on-demand workforce: By the year 2020, freelance workers are projected to represent 43 percent of the workforce. This gives small businesses access to the right people at the right time in a flexible way, without the responsibility of hiring traditional employees.
  4. Online marketplaces: Online outlets are giving small businesses the ability to not only sell more niche products and services, but also to extend their reach to millions of customers that they previously never had access to.
  5. Affordable advertising: Online advertising has made it cost-effective to connect with customers worldwide. For a fairly low cost, small businesses can deliver their targeted messages, whether it be a sponsored photo or in-stream video ad, to a whole new audience.

“This next decade will be the decade of the small business,” said Karen Peacock, senior vice president of small business at Intuit. “Industry-shifting trends like lower-cost, scalable infrastructure to start and grow your business, the ability to build a team with amazing on-demand talent, and data that helps you fuel your business and delight your customers are game changers.”

Tips Stretch Your Startup Dollars

Initial startup costs are some of the biggest expenses a new business owner will have to encounter. Before you turn a profit, there are many parts of the business that need to be covered up front, and entrepreneurs don’t always anticipate some of these expenses.

To reduce your startup costs and stretch your dollars a little farther, follow these tips.

A simple way to save money as a new business owner is to set spending and expense limits. However, a surprising number of business owners don’t have a formal budget, said Carissa Reiniger, founder of small business support community Thank You Small Business.

“There is so much power in knowing what is going on in your business, for better or for worse,” Reiniger told Business News Daily. “Managing the finances of my business is not something I naturally enjoy, so I’ve put rules in place to help me stay on track. I advise setting up a standard time every week or month for reviewing and managing your budget.”

Angie Segal, an ActionCOACH business coach, advised entrepreneurs to factor their own salary into the budget as soon as possible.

“When you don’t pay yourself, you take money out of the business elsewhere to cover your own expenses,” Segal said. “Giving yourself a salary forces you to make everything in your budget work.”

Thatcher Spring, CEO of GearLaunch, said entrepreneurs should always do as much as possible with what they have before they add more fixed costs.

“At my company, we only hire when there is too much for the current staff to reasonably accomplish without additional help,” he said. “I’ve also found that hiring less-experienced, smart, adaptable employees, instead of only those that are senior and highly experienced, can help keep salaries under control.”

When you created your business plan, you might have envisioned all of the latest office equipment, lavish holiday parties and enough staff to take on big projects. However, not all of those business luxuries are guaranteed.

Office Evolution founder and CEO Mark Hemmeter said small business owners can suffer from a lack of flexibility in their grand plans.

“Your ego and vanity can get in the way,” he said. “You want that car or that perfect sign, but it just isn’t a good fit for the core of the business.

Hemmeter recommended looking into short-term solutions, like using shared office spaces and hiring freelance workers, until you can afford to make long-term commitments such as acquiring private office suites and hiring full-time employees.

Spring added that business owners should always plan for every effort to take longer than expected, whether it’s launching a new website, signing up customers, sourcing new products or hiring employees.

“Make sure you always set aggressive goals, but realize that there will be unexpected terrain on the pathway to success,” he said.

Startup costs for a new business add up, but there are tips and tools for finding the best areas to spend the money and those where you can cut back a bit. Spring noted that there are numerous cost-effective, self-service tools available to small business owners who want to save money by taking care of their own branding and website development.

However, it’s wise to be wary of “free” opportunities, warned Raad Mobrem, CEO and co-founder of Lettuce Apps (acquired by Intuit).

“Free tools can be a bad idea — they’re free for a reason,” Mobrem said. “Always pay for the important things, like software. You can ask for discounts with B2B services. People understand that you’re a small business just starting out, and if they offer discounts, you’ll want to work with them in the future.”

That said, spending money on the lowest-priced items can mean getting the lowest quality. As a result, you may have to replace things multiple times, and that can be more expensive than going with a pricier option in the first place.

“It’s a huge mistake to go as cheap as you can,” Hemmeter said. “It doesn’t look very professional.”

One area where you may want to splurge is your company culture, Spring said. You can invest in small items, such as snacks and comfortable work furniture, which don’t necessarily cost a lot but produce meaningful intangible value. “Having a great office environment will improve productivity,” Spring said.

After you follow the initial tips to save money and reduce the startup costs of your new business, it’s just as important to make sure your expenses stay on track as your business grows. Seek financial advice from accountants and fellow small business owners, and then go over your expenses and try to cut back where you can.

“Find an accountant that acts as a business adviser,” Segal suggested. “Look at your profit and loss with him or her every month, and see if anything is creeping up. Be very conscious of your numbers.”

As you adjust your budget each month to save money, you’ll be able to start investing in bigger, better things for your business. Mobrem’s advice is to plan your budget in terms of stages.

“Analyze and think about your long-term goals with your budget,” he said. “Ask yourself, ‘If I hit this goal, where should my budget go next?'”

Business Plan Tools for Small Businesses

Have a killer business idea? A killer business plan can help you turn it into a successful business. Creating a well-crafted business plan is no easy task, however. You’ll need to not only flesh out your idea, but also have a deep understanding of the different aspects of running a business — before you even start one.

Figuring out how to do this correctly is hard enough, but there are several tools available to make this arduous task a little bit easier for would-be entrepreneurs. Instead of starting from scratch, here are a collection of business plan templates, software, apps and services to help you start a business the right way with a professional business plan.

Business plan templates show you exactly what a business plan is supposed to look like and what goes in each section. You can find them as downloadable sample business plans that you can copy and modify to fit your business, or as fill-in-the-blank or question-and-answer forms. There are also different types of business plans: simple business plans that cover the essentials, comprehensive ones that cover every aspect of a business, and those designed for a specific purpose, such as to raise funding or find business partners. Here are some business plan templates worth considering.

The $100 Startup One-Page Business Plan. One-page business plans take the fuss out creating a business plan by getting down to the basics of what your business is about and how you intend to meet its goals. Think of it like writing down your business on a napkin, but with a purpose. The $100 Startup’s One-Page Business Plan is one such business plan template. Simply answer a few questions like “What will you sell?” “What will you charge?” and “How will customers learn about your business?” in a couple sentences and you’re good to go.

SCORE Business Plan Templates. Small business resource SCORE has a collection of free PDF and Word business plan templates for startups, established businesses and even nonprofits. The organization also offers additional types of business planning resources and templates, such as financial projections, market research, sales forecasts, SWOT analysis and more. Once your business plan is finished, you can meet with a SCORE mentor for feedback and guidance.

Bplans.com. Looking for free sample business plans? Bplans.com offers a wide range of them for all types of businesses, including retailers, online businesses, service providers, restaurants and more. These sample templates come complete with a table of contents and sections like executive summary, company summary, products and services, financial planning, market analysis and other standard business plan sections. Bplans.com offers more than 500 sample business plans that can be downloaded as Word, PDF and other file formats.

Rocket Lawyer. If you need to make your business plan a legal document, check out Rocket Lawyer. Rocket Lawyer lets you create your own legal documents and provides access to various legal services. Its business plans section lets you create business plans in three steps: build, save and sign. You can also print and share your business plans for easy access. Rocket Lawyer business plans come with standard parts of a business plan, as well as sections for funding requests and appendix for supporting documents.

You don’t have to be glued to your desk to create a business plan. There are several business plan mobile apps that will let you write a business plan anytime, anywhere right on your smartphone or tablet. Here are two worth checking out.

StartPad. Recognized by Entrepreneur and Forbes, StartPad is one of the top business plan apps available for the iPad. This app offers a wide range of business planning resources, such as strategic business planning tutorials, professionally made sample business plans, financial projections and other reports. Business plans created on StartPad can also be exported as high-resolution PDFs or printed out. The basic version of StartPad is free to download and use, but requires in-app purchases for additional features. Get StartPad from the Apple App Store.

Business Plan & Start Startup. Are you an Android user? Business Plan & Start Startup is the app for you. This app isn’t just for creating a business plan, however. It also aims to do three things for entrepreneurs: help start a business the right way with a well-crafted business plan; keep them motivated and on track; and provide a community of fellow entrepreneurs, small business owners and experts to help guide users in creating their business plan and running their businesses. Business Plan & Start Startup can be downloaded from the Google Play marketplace

Don’t want to use any of the above? Try an online business plan service, which guides you throughout the business plan writing process. The services offer similar tools as business plan software — such as document collections and chart generators — with the difference being that they typically offer business and legal specialists who can help you better understand complex aspects of your business and business plan. Two online business plan services to consider are LivePlan and the SBA Business Plan Tool.

Bizplan.com. Need funding? Check out startup.co’s business plan service, bizplan.com. This web-based business plan comes with a step-by-step guide to help you build your business plan and optimize it for investors. Business plans can also be completely tailored to your business with logos, graphics, layouts and custom designs to fit your brand. After building your business plan, you can share and publish it on startup.co’s crowdfunding site, fundable.com, where you can connect with investors and add elements like photos and videos to highlight your business.

LivePlan. LivePlan is a cloud-based business plan service that offers everything from document generation to planning tools, financial calculators, guidance resources and more. The service guides you through each component of the business plan and provides step-by-step instructions and advice based on the objective of your business plan (starting a business, business development, funding, etc.)

SBA Business Plan Tool. The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Business Plan Tool covers everything from executive summary and company description to market research, product line, marketing and sales, and financial projections in detail. You can also personalize your business plan with your company logo, as well as save, print and update your business plan as needed.