Monday, June 21, 2010

Looking to jump-start your business? You might try entering a contest.

The Wall Street Journal reported that a growing number of corporations, nonprofits and universities are giving small companies a chance at a big break—by holding contests.

Covering a broad range of categories, from the most promising women entrepreneurs to the strongest tech ideas, these competitions offer a number of powerful lures. Some offer cash prizes that can range into the six figures. Then there are longer-term rewards, such as increased exposure and grist for future marketing campaigns. Even if they don't win, entrepreneurs often come away with valuable critiques from expert panels of judges.

But there's an art to deciding which contests to enter and making the best case for your company. Here are some keys to finding, entering and winning these competitions.

The best place to start looking for contests is, a site that helps groups publicize their awards. Once you've focused in on some competitions, the groups' own sites can be valuable. For instance, you could scour their sites for more information about what they do—which might give you ideas about what to highlight in your presentation.

At the outset, start small with awards from, say, local chapters of national organizations. This has a number of benefits. You can refine your case and practice your presentation without as much at stake. You also stand a better chance of winning a smaller contest—and judges of larger events like to see that you have some victories under your belt.

Once you've homed in on some contests, network like crazy. Call previous winners to see what worked for them; more than anyone else, they'll understand why you're in the hunt—and typically they have nothing to lose because they're ineligible to win again. If you can get into the audience for an award's oral presentations, go do it one year, see what makes the finalists stand out, and then apply the next year. Read more here.

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