What should be expected out of a business plan competition?

Yesterday (March 21, 2009) I attended the final round of – organized by SJCE – Science & Technology Entrepreneurs Park (SJCE-STEP). I being an Alumni of Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering (SJCE) look forward to some excuse to visit my alma mater – not that I visit them all the time, it took my 21 years after graduation to spend a good amount of time at my beloved alma mater.  You can see few photos here. Mysore
Two of my friends, who were judges of Bizcomp, too accompanied me. I had recently reviewed few business plans for iDeas, Megabucks’09 – the Annual Entrepreneurship Festival of IIT Kanpur. I was unable to visit the campus for the final round. So I thought of at least visiting this one (as a non-panelist)

Panelists for the Final Round

A total of 126 business plans were received, of which 8 were shortlisted for the final round. The panelists were

  • Ms Jayashree T.N, Associate Vice-resident, H.S.B.C. Premier
  • Mr. Kumar Vembu, CEO, GoFrugal Technologies
  • Mr. Naveen Kulkarni, Director, Business Development, Philips Research Asia
  • Mr. Ravishankar G V, Vice president, Sequoia Capital India
  • Mr. Kaustav Ghose, Director, Ernst & Young, Bangalore
  • Mr. Deepak Gowda, Asst. Vice President, UTI Ventures
  • Mr. Shekhar Kirani, Vice President, VeriSign India (now with Accel India)
  • Mr. Jaisimha Muthegere, Director-engineering,Yahoo! India (now with Collective India)
  • Mr. Sateesh Andra, Venture Partner, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
  • Mr. Krishna, Mape Advisors, Bangalore

What Attracts The Panel?

The business plan competition should clearly specify what the competition is looking for,

  • Innovation – this I believe is a tough one. We are not that good at innovation but are good at “me toos” (at least in the online world). Extra marks should be given to innovative ideas even if the growth/profitability is not that high.
  • Growth
  • Penetration – the product must be useful to most of the citizens and not just for urban population Finalists Finalists Finalists finalists were students from good educational institutions – The teams participated are from premier institutes like IIM’s, IIT’s,IIIT, Tata Institute Social Science, NIT’s, IMT Ghaziabad , Mudra Institute of Communications, Symbiosis Institute and others.

During presentation many judges asked the team “Have you worked in the film industry? If not, how can you start off something in that industry directly”. Only later I realized there was no way any of these teams would have worked anywhere as they all were just passing out. I think the judges were not briefed about that fact.

Awards Ceremony

The winners of the competition were,

  1. IIIT, Allahabad (Rs 100,000) – Acoustic Materials – They planned to make acoustic carpets (sound proofing) out of jute waste. Apparently almost 70-80% of wastage can be seen in the jute industry. Brilliant idea to build a product out of something that was being thrown away.
  2. Tata Institute of Social Sciences (Rs 60,000) – Krishiparashara –  In fruits you have Grade A, B and C. The pulp from each of these grades are equally good. Farmers produce as high as 50% of grade C fruits which are not sold, they are dumped. The team figured out a way to decentralize the manufacturing of pulp at the rural level by which farmers could generate revenues from this unsold product. This surely excited few judges.
  3. IIM, Ahmedabad (Rs 40,000) – Co-operative Model for Jatropha based Bio-Diesel Production – Farmers could grow Jatropha in their “waste land” to earn about Rs 20,000 per hectare per year. Again, extra income from wasted land.

Two distinguished gentlemen who are were associated with entrepreneurship had many wise words for the audience. It is always interesting to hear real examples, incidents instead of the standard speeches.

Mr. H.K. Mittal, Advisor & Head, National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) gave a very interesting talk. I learnt from Prof M.H. Dhananjaya’s speech the setting up of STEP was initiated by NSTEDB.

  • After passing out of IIM-A, Mr. Mittal wanted to be an entrepreneur but decided to join the govt and since then he has been, in his own words, “preaching and not practicing” entrepreneurship 🙂
  • From his talk one would have never guessed he was never an entrepreneur.
  • His advise was very thought provoking – he said if nobody deserved to win don’t declare a winner as you will be giving a false impression to the entrepreneur and he may really go ahead and setup that business which was sure to fail.
  • An impressive number of Indians are being nominated in international business plan competitions these days.

Dr. G.K. Jayaram, Director, The Institute of Leadership And Institutional Development (ILID) spoke about how India gives opportunities to bright students who may not be able to afford education. Dr. Jayaram himself came from a very humble background and went all the way to pass out from IIM-A and UC Berkeley.

  • He gave a very startling statistic – in the US 90% of the startups fail in the first year, 5% fail in the second year. I wonder what his number would look like in India.
  • The organizers should come up with clear guidelines for the participants and the judges – what is expected out of this competition – the idea (innovation) or profitability or growth (or all of the above)?
  • The participants to clearly spell out which company or problem inspired them to write this business plan.
  • It is very important to have “good partners” and Infosys is the only successful company to have demonstrated best of the best relations between their partners. Yes, indeed.
  • He recommended the book ‘Outliers‘ (from the author of the famous book Tipping Point)


Fueling entrepreneurship in India is very important. Catching and inspiring entrepreneurs when are young is the best thing to do. At least a zillion of us have been inspired by “team Infosys”. Business plan competitions encourage people to think and present their ideas and by having a good panel of judges (as Bizcomp had) the feedback they give can be very valuable for the participants.

Such business plan competitions are a great way of generating interest amongst the smart young minds. At the same time there shouldn’t be too many. There must be competitions for students and from the real world (the ones that are operational). Some day an independent body could rate these competitions to increase the interest amongst the participants.

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