How Do You Win a Business Plan Competition?

The short answer is that you need to be very, very good.  There are a lot of terrific, aspiring entrepreneurs out there, and so a bit of luck is useful too.  Having said that, winning isn't everything. 

buySAFE is actually a product of the 2002 Wharton Business Plan Competition, but the plan was not the winning plan. has a similar story.  The founders and my good friends, Jeff Grass and John Tedesco, were finalists, but not winners, in the 1999 Wharton Business Plan Competition.  However, they went on to raise tens of millions in venture capital and they built a really nice business in the process. 

Simply going through the business planning and critique process is the real benefit of these competitions in my opinion.  Business plans are funny things.  Business planning is a fairly simple exercise, but if you haven't previously developed a plan, the effort can seem very daunting.  Business plan competitions typically provide basic advice to the entrepreneurs on how to get started.  The competitions also have multiple stages with each stage presenting an opportunity to receive valuable feedback from the experienced entrepreneurs and investors that are judging and/or mentoring in the competition.

The following Business Week video does a nice job of covering the basics regarding what you need to know before submitting your business plan.

Winning a Business Plan Competition | The Businessweek Video Library

In the video, the University of Oregon's Randy Swangard talks about how to win that business plan competition — what to keep in mind before you apply, and why it's sometimes better to come in second.

The Wharton Club of New York is running a business plan competition now, and here is all the information you need to enter as a participant.  I highly encourage you to participate if you can.

Also, you might find the following NY Times article interesting.  "Beyond Grades: Business Students Put Their Start-up Ideas to the Test" does a nice job of covering the ins and outs of business school business plan competitions.

Have fun, and good luck!

The eMarket for Lemons at The Wharton School

I had the opportunity to speak at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania last week about an article that Dr. Eric Clemons recently authored for the Journal of Management Information Systems, "An Empirical Investigation of Third-Party Seller Rating Systems in E-Commerce: The Case of buySAFE".  My presentation was focused on marketplace economics and specifically about information asymmetry, signaling, the "Market for Lemons" concept, and buySAFE.  In addition, I was able to share a few thoughts about my entrepreneurial experience with buySAFE.

As always, I had a great time as the guest of Dr. Eric Clemons, and I enjoyed hearing the passionate questions, insights and feedback from the students.  One of the students posted an article about my visit on his blog, The Un-Wharton

Continue reading “The eMarket for Lemons at The Wharton School”

Should Entrepreneurs Worry About the Loyalties of Their Lawyers?

Should entrepreneurs worry about the loyalties of their lawyers?  That is the question posed in a recent article on, and to be honest, it is a fair question.

Most venture financings have closing legal expenses in the mid-five figures, and I know of Series B deals where the closing expenses have approached a quarter million dollars (yes, you heard me right… $250,000).  At the end of the day, these expenses are ultimately paid for by investors.  In addition, within local venture ecosystems, the venture lawyers obviously do many deals with the venture capitalists in their area over the course of time.  These factors certainly create the potential for major conflicts of interest, and according to many entrepreneurs, the conflicts of interest are real.

My team has always had the benefit of terrific legal counsel, and we haven’t personally struggled with this issue.  However, if you honestly assess the dynamics of the venture relationships as well as the economics of where and how corporate lawyers get paid, you will have to agree that entrepreneurs probably should be keeping a close eye on your lawyers.

As I mentioned, there was a terrific post on this subject at – Venture Legal: A Conflict of Interest and a Complicated Mess.  The author of this post hit the issue right on the nail.

Facebook, Executives, College Students and Love

Facebook I was recently invited to join a professional colleague’s Facebook network.  Up until then, I had strictly used LinkedIn as my only social network primarily because a) I have always found LinkedIn to be very useful for business, and b) I perceived Facebook as a playground for college kids.

Well I was wrong.  Facebook is awesome, and many of my professional colleagues were way ahead of me in discovering the network’s value. Its utility becomes very powerful as your network multiplies and matures.  To be quite honest, I now view LinkedIn as a great place to view a professional profile or resume, but that is about it. Facebook provides a scalable method for communicating with your professional network.  The bottom-line is that I am learning to love Facebook. 

Since we are talking about Facebook, I thought you might also enjoy this article about the Facebook phenomenon.

"For college students, if it’s Facebook, it’s love | Reuters

For the Facebook generation, love now comes with a drop-down menu.

With profiles on the Facebook social networking site ( almost de rigueur on college campuses, students can define their relationship status with menu choices ranging from "married" to that perennial favorite, "It’s complicated."

"It’s complicated" could also describe the emotional calculations people in their late teens and early 20s make as they decide whether their relationships are what they call "Facebook-worthy." MORE >>

My Social Network Profiles:      
Facebook >>    
LinkedIn >> Bookmarks >>

A Few Interesting, Recent eCommerce and Entrepreneurship Articles

Good morning everyone!  If you know me well, you know that I am a voracious reader of anything and everything that I believe is interesting or useful either personally or professionally.  My colleagues will attest to the fact that their Inbox usually has at least one article that I have recent found that might be useful for them or buySAFE. 🙂

Today, I have been catching-up on my reading list, and I thought I would share with you a few articles that I found interesting.  Hopefully, you will some of the info interesting as well.


The Wharton School and Entrepreneurship

The Wharton Business Plan Competition took place earlier this month, and NP Solutions was the big winner for 2007. The new venture took home the $20,000 grand prize for a business that provides a polymer based injectable hydrogel treatment for back pain.  Obviously, I wish these folks a bunch of luck with their new business.

As you may already know, I am a big fan of these collegiate competitions.  buySAFE (formerly known as BondMyAuction) is a product of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, and so I can speak from experience when I say that these events can be very useful in getting entrepreneurial ventures launched.  I actually entered the business plan competition in 2000 and 2001 with different ventures as a student.

Then after graduation, I teamed up with Peter Niessen, a 2002 MBA grad, to enter BondMyAuction in the 2002 Wharton Business Plan Competition (You need at least one current student on your team to participate, but the rest of the team can be alums, etc…).  Peter was a terrific teammate, and he and I were able to make it to the Finals of the competition.  Again, it was a great experience, and you can read about it in this recent article by the New York Times – "Beyond Grades: Business Students Put Their Start-Up Ideas to the Test"

One last interesting note for you…

Jeff Grass, buySAFE’s CEO, was also a finalist in the Wharton Business Plan competition in 1999 along with his business partner, John Tedesco (John is currently the CEO & President of Guardian Mobile Monitoring Systems).  Jeff and John launched shortly after graduation, and they ultimately sold the company to PayTrust in 2000.  Today, the company’s service is owned by Intuit, and it powers the bill payment and management solutions for some of the country’s largest financial institutions.

Needless to say, collegiate business plan competitions can provide aspiring entrepreneurs with a generous leg up on the formidable challenges of starting up a company out of school.  For me, the Wharton Business Plan Competition experience was invaluable.

The Three Qualities of Great Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is one of the most exciting things that you can choose to do as a profession.  It is also tough to be an entrepreneur.  Entrepreneurship is definitely not for the faint of heart.  I ran across this quote recently, and I thought it perfectly describes the attributes of successful entrepreneurs.

"Top people, especially entrepreneurs, seem to have these three qualities: First, they learn more things. Second, they try more things. Third, they persist longer than anyone else."

I can’t source this quote unfortunately because I did not write it down at the time I originally heard it.  However, I did find it mentioned on the NVTC website with a quick Google search. The quote is right on point.  I could not have said it better myself. 

Great entrepreneurs are extremely curious people.  They are constantly seeking to learn about new stuff.  That is how they innovate and develop new ideas.  That is also how they successfully manage their ventures. 

Great entrepreneurs know that although the goal is always success, failure is to be expected as well.  If you try twice as many things as your competitors, you are twice as likely to hit on the right formula.  This requires creativity, speed and action.  It also requires a confidence to weather those pesky failures.  Again, great entrepreneurs continue working the problem until they find a solution.

Most of all, great entrepreneurs never quit.  They keep at it much longer than most folks.  They fail, but they get right back up and try again.  In my opinion, persistence is by far and away the most important quality that great entrepreneurs possess.

These also happen to be the qualities that I most admire in the folks that I hire to work in my organizations.  In start-up ventures, entrepreneurship cannot solely be the role of the founders.  Every employee needs to be entrepreneurial.  In my opinion, I would take an entrepreneurial employee over others almost any day. 

The entrepreneurs thrive in startups.  They plow new ground, and take ventures to a place they could not have been imagined before.  The "big" resume folks typically do the same things that worked in their last organization.  Unfortunately for them, most great startup ventures are doing something completely new.  That requires entrepreneurship. 

You show me a team of talented entrepreneurs working well together as a team, and you will probably also be showing me an organization that has a great chance at success.

While I am on the subject, let me also recommend a book for you to read that illustrates my last point.  "Entrepreneurial Marketing: Lessons From Wharton’s Pioneering MBA Course" by Len Lodish, Wharton professor and marketing guru, is one of my favorite books.  For marketers, I believe Entrepreneurial Marketing is required reading.  The following article will give you a brief overview of the book as well as an introduction to Len and his philosophies on teaching marketing to the MBA students at Wharton: Cheaper-Better-Faster.

Enjoy and have a great weekend!