Barring the remote possibility of pouncing upon that rarest of beasts – a government start-up grant – wannabe entrepreneurs have traditionally been reliant on two groups for external funding: investors and banks.
However, as the roll out of Startup Weekend, a challenge to create a business idea in 54 hours, to Melbourne in May demonstrates, competitions are becoming an increasingly attractive kick start for new companies.
Several intriguing start-up competitions have sprouted up in Australia in the last 12 months, while there are now plenty of opportunities for start-ups to pit themselves against international rivals overseas too.
Thanks to the plummeting cost of starting up a business, even the small amount of seed funding or practical help commonly offered by competitions can get your idea off the ground.
Naturally, the StartupSmart Awards is the premier recognition a start-up can get, but what other competitions out there can provide you with the money to help you get up and running?
We’ve scoured the globe for the 10 best competitions for start-ups, as well as providing a nod to some local favourites. Ladies and gentlemen – please start your entry forms.
IBM deserves a tip of the hat for its support of start-ups. Not only has it committed $US150 million to the Startup America project in an attempt to unearth the top entrepreneurial talent in the US, it has also backed a global odyssey to find start-up can build a “smarter planet.”
The StartCamp scheme involves nine competitions in eight countries throughout the year, with the first instalment to take place in Bangalore, India at the end of this month.
Although the competition embarks upon a world tour that the Rolling Stones would be proud of, in terms of its scope that is, Australia, alas, isn’t on the itinerary.
However, if you have business to be in the US, Spain or China, for example, you can take part. Successful start-ups receive free mentoring, software and investment.
Challenging IBM for the title of the ‘world’s biggest start-up competition’ is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with its MassChallenge competition.
Start-ups from across the world can apply to MassChallenge, which invites 100 selected finalists to Boston. The top dozen companies split $1 million in funding, as well as receive free business tools and mentorship.
The best part is that you don’t have to base yourself in Massachusetts to take advantage of the prizes.
3. The Twitch
Another MIT venture (are Australian universities paying attention?), the Twitch contest is a start-up competition with a twist – entries have to be submitted within the Twitter-standard 140 characters or less.
The winner is judged by the amount of re-tweets its idea gets. Last year’s winner, fundraising tech start-up Couchange.org, won with the pithy message: “Convert giftcards into cash for charities, win $500 for charity at http://edeify.com/RT #100kTwitch”
There’s a $100,000 prize fund for the Twitch, with MIT determined to take the concept to the world. It has publicly stated that it wants businesses from 25 different countries participating, up from the current total of nine.
4. Startup Bus
Operating at an even greater break-neck speed than Startup Weekend, the Startup Bus competition requires teams of strangers to band together to come up with a business concept and launch a website in just 48 hours.
The teams have to do this while travelling on a fleet of Wi-Fi enabled buses heading to Austin, Texas for the SXSW Festival. The team behind TripMedi, a joint Startup Bus winner at this year’s SXSW, was headed by an Australian lawyer, Rolland Dillon.
Get lucky and be pitched together with a talented team and you can get your winning idea off the ground following the competition with the help of various mentors.
The beauty of some US-based start-up competitions is that, if you win, you don’t have to give up any equity in return for seed funding.
One such competition is the We Media PitchIt Challenge, aimed at innovative media and tech start-ups. Two winners are handed $25,000 each, without relinquishing any stake in their businesses.
The down side is that should you be shortlisted, you have to travel to New York to pitch your idea. The good news is that the competition is actively searching for Aussie entrants. In January, Andrew Nachison, founder and MD of We Media, told StartupSmart that he’d “love to see some strong entries from Australia.”