Five Tips for Ed-Tech Startups Entering Business Plan Competitions

It’s awards season! And I’m not just talking about the Grammys and the Oscars.

Spring is a popular time of year for education business plan competitions. You can find a list of competitions on EdSurge. Popular events here in the Northeast include the Booth & Yale SOM Education Business Plan Competition in March and the Milken-Penn GSE Business Plan Competition in May.

In the past, we’ve had varied success when entering competitions (see my post Luck Matters When You’re an Ed-Tech Entrepreneur), but we’ve received some great tips from advisors/mentors/judges on how to approach the process. Here’s a compiled list of the best advice we’ve received. If you have specific questions, let me know @professorword.

1. Follow the rules

PW-17-1.jpgThis is worth mentioning, because I’ve seen too many people skip this. Read the instructions. Make sure you’re eligible. If they ask for a five-page, double-spaced summary, do not submit a five-page, single-spaced summary. If they give you five minutes to pitch, prepare for five minutes. This is not the time to test the limits. Follow the instructions to make sure that your submission doesn’t get tossed for being non-compliant.

2. Formatting matters (a lot)

PW-17-3.pngCompetition judges read a lot of submissions. You want your submission to be easy to read and review. So keep your sentences concise, use well-defined organizational structures like paragraphs, lists, and indentations, and use graphics where appropriate. Just because they allow you to submit a 25-page, single-spaced business plan, doesn’t mean you should do it. Would you want to read 25 pages of dense text? I don’t think so. They say that we eat with our eyes, as well as with our taste buds. The same rules apply here. Make sure your submission is easy on the eyes.  


3. Know your audience

PW-17-4.pngWho will be judging your submission? Teachers, principals, professors, investors, or entrepreneurs? Try to find out, so you can tailor your submission to your audience. For example, teachers will probably be more interested in your user experience and the results of your beta-test, while investors may be more interested in your sales strategy and financial model. You never have enough time (or pages or slides) to cover everything. Knowing a little more about your audience can help you figure out what to emphasize.


4. Practice is the key to a perfect presentation or pitch

PW-17-5.pngThe best way to deliver a great presentation or pitch, is to have done it before in practice. Before going into a presentation, make sure you have a clear plan for what you want to say and how you will transition from slide to slide. Transitions are underrated. When you can smoothly transition from slide to slide, it ties your whole presentation together. And don’t underestimate the importance of the Q&A. Check out my previous post, The Best Presentation Advice We’ve Ever Received, for more tips.


5. Focus on the process, not the prize money

PW-17-6.pngThis is the best advice we’ve received about competitions. If your only goal in entering is to win prize money, then you’ll probably be disappointed. Instead, you want to focus on the process. Use the competition as a way to engage the education community at large. It also should help you clarify thoughts about your business. For example, as you’re writing your plan or submission, you may discover that you haven’t given enough thought to your marketing plan or maybe your financial model could use some more work. Knowing that we needed to put together a business plan gave us the impetus to finally tackle some of the questions that we had been putting off, because we had been so focused on other aspects of the startup. Instead of fixating on the prize, use this process to help you grow and improve.


Best of luck to everyone this awards season! And let me know if you have questions @professorword.

Until next time,


See also:

  Have questions or feedback? Comment below or let me know on Twitter @professorword!

Photo Credit: Flickr user Davidlohr Bueso, Ramunas Geclauskas, Cydcor Offices, woodleywonderworks, philosophygeek



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