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Wednesday, 12 February 2014

How to Win Startup Competitions

Building a good reputation is one of the most fundamental components to a successful start-up and is particularly invaluable in the early stages. Without positive feedback and growing popularity, the critical first few sales become even harder as well as funding being tough to secure. It is for this reason that I invested a lot of effort into building the reputation of my start-up, Flat-Club, from its initial launch in 2010.

I found that a particularly rewarding way of boosting reputation was through start-up competitions. The first success was winning the TechCrunch One-Sentence-Pitch Challenge. Over the past few weeks Flat-Club has been especially successful in this domain, being selected in the Startups100 listof the most exciting & disruptive start-ups in UK, as well as being chosen as a finalist for the UK’s best small business competition: Pitch80. These achievements have given us an outstanding push in terms of furthering our reputation, motivation, morale and business results. We have doubled the sales of last month with less spending as well as being contacted by five VCs and investors, including two VCs from this list.

Competitions provide start-ups with the invaluable means to improve their reputation, enhance their profile and help them on the road to expansion and success. Winning a start-up competition, or even just being selected for a final, attracts positive media attention and makes the start-up more appealing to investors. With the majority of judges being experts, success in a competition gives a start-up the confidence that it is heading in the right direction. It also boosts the morale and motivation of the company team. A great way for a start-up to capitalise from a competition victory is to create a social media ‘buzz’, using Twitter and Facebook to draw attention to their new award.

How to win an award in a startup competition:
Research. Researching start-up competitions is the first necessary step towards winning one. It’s important for start-ups to understand what competitions are applicable to them and when the deadline is set. Flat-Club have compiled the largest database of European start-up competitions to make it a lot quicker and easier for you to apply.

Read Success Stories. Learning about the experience of previous winners helps start-ups to increase their understanding of the expectations of the competitions and the judging panel. Through reading about the successes of previous companies and the steps they took to achieve their victory, start-ups are likely to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. Another constructive way for start-ups to recognise their own flaws and work on improving them is through learning the reasons behind the failure of other companies.

Meet The Criteria. It is important for start-ups to know the particular criteria necessary for applications. Competitions set specific conditions of entry and are often only applicable to certain start-ups. For example, the ‘Visa Elevator Pitch’ will only accept video entries, whilst you have to be a country-based business to be eligible for the ‘House to Home’ competition. It is also a good idea for start-ups to learn who is on the judging panel and research the interests of the judges. Tailoring an application to the requirements of a competition and making an effort to impress the judges will considerably increase the chances of victory.
Prepare Your Pitch! It is of course important to have a strong pitch to put forward in these competitions. Start-ups must ensure that their pitch is short, to the point and original. They need to focus on their unique selling point and flaunt it. Effective and innovative pitches take time to develop; it is vital to try various ideas, test them out on different audiences and listen to the feedback. Make sure you get some inspiration for outstanding video pitches.

Finally, Apply! The start-up scene within Europe and particular in the UK is growing fast and brings with it many competitions. In the Flat-Club database of start-up competitions, over 85 have been included within Europe, totalling an average of almost 2 competitions a week to enter. Each competition gives start-ups the chance to learn from their weaknesses and build on their strengths. It is therefore important to never give up at the first hurdle; applying and re-applying is the key to success.

With prizes ranging from £2,000 to £1,000,000 combined with priceless potential benefits, you literally cannot afford not to give start-up competitions a go!

(Originally published on VCCafe)

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