Couchange, Facebook, Melbourne University Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, Student Entrepreneurs, Microsoft, TripMedi, Y Combinator, Jumbuck, Startup Weekend, Hughes and Craigslist, Twitter
Top 10 start-up competitions in the world
By Oliver Milman
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.
1. Global StartCamp
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.
5. We Media PitchIt Challenge
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.”
While prize money is regularly thrown at promising start-ups in the US, it’s sadly thin on the ground in Australia.
Happily, the situation has improved markedly in just the last six months, with a wave of new initiatives. Startmate is perhaps the premier competition for tech start-ups, offering a decent chunk in initial funding – $25,000 each in return for a 7.5% stake – and ongoing mentoring form some of the leading lights of Australia’s tech scene.
The five winners selected for the inaugural Startmate in January also got to head to Silicon Valley to see how they do it Stateside. A welcome addition to Australia’s landscape and, happily, gearing up to return next year.
7. SXSW Accelerator
The novelty element of the Startup Bus competition may have grabbed it the media headlines, but the most worthwhile start-up competition at SXSW could well be its Accelerator program, held with Microsoft Biz Spark.
Last month, 32 budding entrepreneurs demonstrated their products to a panel of judges that includes Y Combinator partner Paul Buchheit, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and Craigslist founder Craig Newmark. Now in its third year, surely it’s time for an Australian category winner?
App-based gaming is a booming area but opportunities can be hard to come by for Australian developers. The Launchpad commercialisation program, overseen by entertainment company Jumbuck, goes some way to remedying this.
The scheme chose its first winner, Foolhardy Games, last year and is set to launch a follow-up competition within the next month. Make sure you read the not-so-fine print though – $50,000 investment requires you to give up 50% if your business.
We’re giving PushStart a spot for its potential alone, as it only launched a few weeks ago. But for positioning itself as Australia’s answer to the wildly successful Y Combinator, it is to be resoundingly applauded.
The deal? There’s an initial Mentor Connect program, which links you up with a mentor. There will then be a separate competition later this year that will identify 10 leading start-ups and provide them with funding, office space and mentoring.
Details are still a little sketchy – founder Kim Heras told StartupSmart that the funding will be around $20,000 for a 7-10% stake – but the arrival of PushStart is a very welcome boost for start-ups.
10. Enterprize Business Plan Competition
The number of entrepreneurial courses delivered by Australian universities is steadily rising and, with them, various start-up groups and competitions have emerged.
Melbourne University group Student Entrepreneurs has created the Melbourne University Entrepreneurs’ Challenge, which provides prizes of up to $5,000 for students with a winning business plan.
However, the real stand-out is the University of Queensland’s Enterprize Business Plan Competition. Not only does the winning team get $100,000 to commercialise their idea, the competition is open to business plans from student and non-student alike.
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