Prizes from business contests run the gamut. A seemingly infinite number of local and business-school competitions offer small-change awards of $5,000 to $15,000; meanwhile, Rice University doles out six-figure prizes annually, as do accelerators MassChallenge and Techstars. But some big-money contests require winners to sign over a percentage of their equity — a deal-breaker for many entrepreneurs.
So which competitions should you enter? How will you dazzle the judges? And how can you walk away a winner even if you don’t place?
First, don’t just throw everything against the wall and see what sticks. Be selective about the contests you enter; choose those that focus on your market and/or business sector. This doesn’t just winnow the competition; it also gets you in front of judges who know the community or industry you’re hoping to take by storm.
For Jennifer Medbery, founder and CEO of Kickboard, an online student-data tracking program for educators, this meant focusing on contests for educational startups and businesses in New Orleans, where she’s based. Between 2009 and 2012, she raised more than $150,000 in…