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Involve Investors Early In Business Plan Competitions

University and business school entrepreneurship events and conferences in India tend to be clustered in the winter season. Participating in business plan competitions and panel discussions on startups and ventures is par for the course for most venture capitalists around this time of the year. IIT Kharagpur, IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Bombay were among some of the institutions where I participated in entrepreneurship events this year.

The structure and format of the events can be critical to the value that entrepreneurs and investors derive from it. Business plan competitions are standard fare at most events, and serve a vital function in the venture ecosystem. Venture capitalists get to examine potential investment opportunities, and entrepreneurs get an opportunity to present their ideas and get feedback from investors. Business plan events are in many ways the most important segments, the raison d’être of the conference.

But if the process of selecting ventures is not designed and executed thoughtfully, the business plan competition can quickly become a waste of time for everyone instead of being a well-curated platform where startups and investors can talk to each other and form an initial connection.

There are a few simple things that should be done to make business plan competitions more productive for investors and startups. The conference organizers, typically the finance or entrepreneurship clubs at the universities, should work to involve investors as early as possible in selecting the startups which make presentations on the day of the event. Allowing investors to have a say in picking companies invited to present refines the selection process and ensures that companies which otherwise may fall through the cracks are not overlooked in the rough and tumble when busy students take up the responsibility of organizing an on-campus event.

IIT Bombay has taken the lead and incorporates investor feedback for startup selection. Others would do well do adopt this as a best practice.

Besides investor involvement, putting in place simple and thoughtful filters that self-select ventures of a certain minimum standard would greatly enhance the value of business plan events. Such criteria need to be designed carefully.

India’s venture ecosystem is still in its infancy. It is important to get the processes and systems in place correctly at the beginning to ensure that the right companies are able to get visibility.

As things stand today, there are many more companies that are looking for funding than there are entrepreneurship conferences that organize business plan competitions and startup showcases. There must be several companies that deserve the platform, but don’t make the cut because of thoughtless selection process design. Fine-tuning and standardizing the process across events will ensure that investors know exactly what to expect and the time investment and travel typically required to attend is worthwhile. For entrepreneurs, it would mean transparency and consistency in selection procedure along with merit being rewarded. Overall, events would be more interactive and productive for all participants.

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