Business Plan Competitions

Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

I recently competed in two different business plan competitions, and came in first place in each of them. For the first competition, I was going up against two other individuals who had started their own companies. This competition format was a 3 minute elevator pitch, followed by several minutes of questioning by the panel of judges. This competition was a bit harder, since I was going up against individuals who had taken initiative and started companies of their own. It was a great experience giving a pitch, but I learned the most from the question and answer portion of the competition. I think there are a few things I did correctly that allowed me to win:

  • I did really well on the Q&A portion of the pitch. I am somewhat lucky here, as for the past two weeks I have had multiple conversations with potential customers and partners in my target market, and after spending about 10 months researching every fact about my business, company and market, I feel confident that I know more about the college housing market than almost anyone. I used several bits of this knowledge during the Q&A portion of the contest, and I think it really helped my pitch stand out from the others because I obviously had an excellent knowledge of my product and market.
  • Answered each of the judges’ questions with specific answers, examples and numbers. Some of the other responses were a bit vague or big picture, and I think I did a good job of addressing their question and tossing in some facts and figures to support my answer.


The 2nd contest was a bit different than the first I entered. For this one, I had to prepare a 10 minute presentation and then answer questions for 20 minutes. I learned a few lessons from this pitch as well:

  • This competition was a business plan competition. The number one reason I believe I won is that I was going against smart people who had written a great business plan – not smart people who had started a business. I think that many of their ideas were great, but when compared to someone who has actually taken an idea, developed it and gotten a few customers.. I don’t think there is a real comparison. The one who has done something will usually come out looking a bit more impressive. In this competition, I think it gave me a massive edge, and made the playing field a bit uneven.
  • Another thing I did to stand out was I used Prezi to create my presentation. None of the judges had seen it used before, and it’s a pretty cool thing to witness and gives the presentation a nice level of interactivity. I don’t think it was necessary, but as the last presenter I believe it helped the judges stay engaged and interested in my slides and the content I was talking about.


Overall, the experience of pitching in front of people and getting real and honest feedback is a great one. I would suggest entering as many of these competitions as possible (I plan to), as I learn something each time.

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