Each autumn since 1998, entrepreneurs and students traverse the beautiful campus of the University of Pennsylvania amid the brilliantly-colored falling leaves to the Wharton Business School for the kickoff of its Business Plan Competition. Since its inception, this contest has evolved into an extraordinary learning experience for young student-entrepreneurs. With prize packages worth an aggregate $70,000, it can also be an opportunity for the three best of these contestants to turn their hard work and bright ideas into real working businesses.
Designed primarily to be an educational experience for UPenn business students, numerous workshops are offered tailored to teaching contestants everything they need to know to bring a new business to fruition in the 21st Century. Examples of some of the workshops include:
- Business Plan Financials
- How to Write a Business Plan
- Legal Basics
- How to Write an Executive Summary
- Idea Generation
- Past Wharton BPC Winners
Also in an effort to augment contestants’ learning experience, mentors such as venture capital professionals, seasoned business managers, and veteran entrepreneurs are matched with each student team. On-going interaction between students and these mentors provides priceless insight into the business world and refine aspects of teams’ concepts/plans.
Judges too participate in the educational process, providing valuable feedback to students about their presentations and business plans.
Although teams are usually composed of 2 â€“ 5 members, no limit is imposed. Each team elects its own leader, who must be a UPenn degree candidate. Team building services are provided for those who may have an idea but no team, or vice-versa.
Registration is achieved through the competition’s web site and must be performed by each team’s respective leader. It is recommended that registration be accomplished as early on as possible.
The Wharton BPC is composed of three progressive phases, each with a very specific curriculum.
Phase I: Teams submit a basic business concept in a brief document of 1,200 words or less for review and feedback. A social “mixer” is held in an effort to help individuals match their business ideas with potential team members. Workshops are held, focusing on the process of generating good business ideas, thinking through the early stages of the plan’s development, and recognizing opportunities. Although strict registration/submission deadlines are observed, submissions may be modified at will after submission until the deadline. Therefore, it would behoove teams to submit and register their idea early, refining it until the deadline if need be.
Phase II: In this phase, which is open to all UPenn students, contestants submit more refined/detailed descriptions of their business concepts to be scrutinized by the judging panel. These business overviews must be 2,000 words or less. Judges rank the competitors according to their respective business’ feasibility and chose the top 25 to move on to the next round as semifinalists. Submissions must be made in Adobe Acrobat format and no team members’ names may be visible thereon.
Phase III: In this semi-final phase, teams are asked to illustrate their concepts in an official business plan. Business plans submitted must include the following elements:
- Executive summary
- Company description
- Product/service identification
- Market, competition and competitive advantage
- Management team and organization
- Financial structure and projections
- Documentation and discussion of intellectual property
No limits are imposed upon the length of these business plans, except that they are kept within reason.
The 8 business plans deemed best by the judging panel continue to swim upstream to the Venture Finals as the remaining 17 die and are consumed by hungry grizzly bears.
The Venture Finals: In this final phase, the spotlight shines down on the “great 8 finalists” as they present their polished plans for how to turn their business concepts into working realities. This is accomplished by way of live interactive presentations to Wharton’s panel of judges. The pressure is on as past winners of the Wharton BPC showcase their entrepreneurial success for the audience, showing the newbies just how tough of an act they are to follow.
In the 20-minute timeframe (10 of which is reserved for Q&A) each team must make a case for how it can achieve its goals and specifically what makes its particular business concept a worthy pursuit.
At the end of it all, the three champions claim their prizes: $20,000 for first place, $10,000 for second, and $5,000 for third. Each of the top three champion teams also receives $5,000 in legal and $5,000 in accounting/strategy services from prominent Philadelphia firms.
There is also a $5,000 prize reserved for the top undergraduate team who attain Phase III status and submit their plan for consideration in the Venture Finals.
The competition’s web site is a treasure trove of resources and information for all involved, including but not limited to:
- Judging Criteria
- Schedule of Events
- Detailed restrictions/stipulations
- Descriptions of workshops
- Submission Requirements
Check out http://bpc.wharton.upenn.edu/index.html today for more information on how to participate in the Wharton Business Plan Competition.