8 Tips for Social Business Plan Competitors


When Planting Empowerment was just a wee company, we participated in social business plan competitions at several universities including Notre Dame, University of Texas Austin, and Yale. While we never came away with a first place, they were an excellent way for us to gain valuable (and yes, critical) feedback about our business plan and become more comfortable pitching our concept. We even earned a little money which helped us get off the ground. These days, we stay involved through judging and mentoring roles, and have seen a lot of different business plans. Below we present a few suggestions on how to improve your chances at these competitions.

Have your product/service already developed. The judges see hundreds of business plans, and your amazing idea is competing with all the other amazing ideas. Having something already in production, or even a working prototype, signals that you’re serious about your business and are actually making it happen. Include photos of the product. Photoshop it being used. Include a positive testimonial from someone who has actually used your product or service (be honest, of course). Judges want to be known for choosing something that is already a reality or is well on its way, not an idea that may become reality.

Use real numbers. Assumptions won’t get you too far. Do your research and cite your sources for the assumptions you are using to develop your numbers. This is especially important for sales numbers. If you’re going to quantify your social impact, use the New Economic model system. A 568% SROI or $1-$10 cost-benefit ratio will raise eyebrows because the analysis probably isn’t accurate. Run it by one of your friends who is studying economics.

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Four recommendations for social businesses and nonprofits

Advisory Board member Ned Symes stands with a spiny cedar tree in PanamaLast Wednesday I had the opportunity to sit down with some grad students at American University's International Training and Education Program (ITEP) to discuss social enterprise.

The goal of the discussion was to give up-and-coming entrepreneurs a sense of the challenges behind starting and managing a nonprofit or mission-focused business. Three former ITEP students who have gone on to start their own enterprises also helped lead the discussion.

The two nonprofits represented, Access to Success and Simply Equal Education, are both young and obviously passionate about their work. As they described the challenges they were facing, I thought back on our own version of those same challenges. That's not to say that we're not still dealing with some of them—maintaining a flow of operating capital, managing our operations efficiently, and mission creep to name a few—but now we have the benefit of viewing our early mistakes in hindsight.

Some of the recommendations that came out of our discussion include:

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