Have you hatched a great idea for a business? If your business is less than 2 years old or is in the planning stages, enter our 17th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge, co-sponsored by Florida International University’s Eugenio Pino & Family Global Entrepreneurship Center.
This year, we offer three tracks: a Community Track open to anyone in South Florida; an FIU Track open to students and alumni of the university; and a High School Track for grades 8-12.
Panels of expert judges will select the three best business plans in each track based on both the quality of the idea and the submitted plan. The online community will select a “People’s Pick" winner in the Community and FIU tracks. (Details on online balloting will be coming in March.)
We will also name an overall 2015 Challenge Champion, which can come from any of the three tracks.
GENERAL RULES FOR ALL TRACKS
You must live in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe and Palm Beach counties). If you are entering an existing business, it must be based in South Florida. See additional rules for FIU and student tracks under Specific Rules section.
The entry must be no more than three pages; shorter plans are fine, also. You may include one additional page of supporting material —such as a product picture or diagram, a graphic or a financial spreadsheet. Think of your plan as a meaty executive summary, offering just the highlights of your business plan. See tips for preparing your entry below.
Entries must be for proposed for-profit businesses or firms in the start-up phase. If you launched your company before Jan. 1, 2013, you are not eligible. Sorry, no nonprofits. If you entered the Challenge before and were not one of the top three winners in the track, you may enter your plan again as long as you meet the other criteria. Multiple entries from one person are allowed if they are different business ideas.
Entry deadline: Emailed by 11:59 p.m. Monday, March 16.
E-mail your entry to:
challenge@MiamiHerald.com — Community Track
fiuchallenge@MiamiHerald.com — for FIU Track
highschoolchallenge@Miami Herald.com — for High School Track
Please put the name of your venture or your name in the subject line of the email.
You should receive an automated response after sending. For questions, problems or further confirmation: email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com.
Awards: The Challenge Champion, the top three competitors in the community, FIU and student tracks as well as the People’s Pick winners will be the subjects of a Business Monday cover story and section April 27. Winners will be invited to a luncheon in their honor where they will meet with the Miami Herald’s business staff and judges, as well as a Hall of Fame reception hosted by FIU’s College of Business in the fall. Winners will also receive free admission to FIU’s entrepreneurship workshops and webinars in the fall and mentoring from the judges.
SPECIFIC RULES FOR FIU, HIGH SCHOOL TRACKS
FIU Track: You must be a student or alumnus of FIU to enter. If a team is entering, at least one member of the team must be an FIU student or alumnus. Please write "FIU Entry" at the top of your submission. You cannot enter both the community track and the FIU track with the same idea. The top six finalists may be required to present their pitch to the judges and gain valuable feedback, and judges will consider the pitch in their final ranking of the top six.
High School Track: The contest is open to students in grades 8-12 in Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties (we are allowing 8th graders to also compete). A one- or two-page entry is fine in the student category. Please put “High School Entry" at the top.
TIPS ON PREPARING YOUR ENTRY
Give specifics: Clearly define what your product or service is. What is its value to the customer? What problem is it solving in the market? Explain what sets your product of service apart from the competition. What is its market opportunity for growth — is the business scalable? If you already have a prototype, done beta testing and/or have hit any other milestones, make that clear in the plan, too. It is OK if your idea exists only on paper.
Get personal: Tell us a little about yourself and your management or proposed management team. What expertise does your team bring?
Include financials: How much start-up capital will you need? What are potential sources of funding? Include revenue and expense projections for at least three years. Many entries in years past would have been in the winners circle if they had included well-thought out financials. You can use your supplemental page for your financial section.
Don’t forget marketing: Who is your target market and how will you market your product or service? Tell us about your market research and marketing strategy.
Include contact information: A phone number and email address, please.
Questions? Email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com; Twitter @ndahlberg
Get help: We plan to hold a Business Plan Bootcamp at Miami Dade College Feb. 18; watch for details on the bootcamp on www.MiamiHerald.com/challenge. Check out the spring workshop series and low-cost “Entrepreneur’s How To" webinars hosted by FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center at entrepreneurship.fiu.edu.
Lights, camera, action! Be prepared to do a 90-second video presentation if you are one of our top six finalists in the Community or FIU Tracks. We’ll take care of the filming. The videos will be posted on MiamiHerald.com/challenge and readers will vote on their favorites.