The Ultimate Guide to Social Entrepreneur Business Plan Competitions

Are you wondering why social entrepreneurs should consider participating in a business plan contest? Besides the prize and the limelight these competitions may bring, there are other benefits that you should consider before deciding to add participation in a business plan competition to your ‘to do’ list.

The most obvious benefit of participating in business plan competitions is that the prize money could serve as seed funding for your social venture. The other advantage is that business plan competitions force entrepreneurs to think clearly and articulate their social impact and financial aims unambiguously. Rigorous grilling by judges and their subsequent feedback can provide precious inputs for refining your business plan further.

Participating in business plan competitions also offers an unparalleled opportunity to network with investors and like-minded individuals. You may or may not win the competition, but you can certainly find useful contacts and wise mentors. Remember, that it is not unusual for contest participants to find funding even when they do not win the contest.

You can find about various business plan competitions from friends or by attending social enterprise conferences. You could also try our list of business plan competitions for social entrepreneurs from around the world.

Breakthrough Innovation Grant Competition (BIG)

About – The Breakthrough Innovation Grant Competition is open to participants from all over the world. Anyone with an innovative and scalable business idea that can be offered through the Hapinoy sari-sari store network in Philippines can participate in the BIG competition. The BIG competition is sponsored by The Seven Fund, The Fisherman Foundation and Microventure Inc’s Hapinoy program.
Who can participate – Individuals above 18 years of age, teams of two individuals, or registered entities can participate in the competition.
Prize – Philippine Pesos 250,000
Deadline – Usually in November

Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition (GSEC)

About – The Global Social Entrepreneurship Competition aims to reward the best business plan aimed at alleviating poverty in developing economies. The semifinalist teams are invited to participate in the GSEC week in Seattle.
Managed by – Foster School’s Global Business Center of the University of Washington
Who can participate – Student teams from anywhere around the world
Prize – at least $ 30,000
Deadline – Not available

NYU Stern Annual Social Venture Competition

About –The NYU Stern Annual Social Venture Competitionis designed to further the interest of students and alumni of New York University (NYU) in social enterprise. Non-profit businesses are excluded from the competition. All participating teams must fulfill the double bottom line criterion of social impact and financial sustainability.
Who can participate – Only teams with a Stern alumni or employee as an active member of the venture are eligible to participate. Active membership is determined by a 15 % stake in the business or other factors as may be decided on by the Berkley Centre.
Prize – The winners receive the $ 100,000 Satter family prize named after Stewart Satter a stern alumnus and a successful entrepreneur who supports the social entrepreneurship program at NYU.
Deadline – Not available

Oxford University 21st Century Challenge

About – If you think that your business ideas can offer financial returns with social and environmental benefits then Oxford University 21st Century Challengeis the business plan competition for you.
Who can participate – The competition is open to participants of all hues including individuals, teams, companies, students, scientists and entrepreneurs.
Prize – If you can convince the jury that your sustainable business is capable of generating financial returns while solving the pressing problems of the 21st century you may get a seed capital of £10,000 or venture funding to the tune of £1.5 million depending on the target sector and the developmental stage of your business.
Deadline – Not available

Staples Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition (SYSE)

About –Participants in the Staples Youth Social Entrepreneurship Competition can be self nominated or can be nominated by someone else impressed by their work. They need to be operating a youth led social venture and must be able to travel to Washington DC to attend the TEDxYSE usually held in November.
Who can participate – The SYSE competition is open to youth between the age of 12 – 24 from all over the world.
Prize – Staples associates determine one grand prize of $5,000 by voting.
Deadline – the final selection is in November.

The Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC)

About –The Global Social Venture Competition is billed as the largest and oldest student-led business plan competition. The final round is held at the Haas School of Business at the University of California.
Who can participate – Each team must have a graduate business student from any part of the world or an individual who has graduated from a graduate business program within the last two years.
Prize – The total award money for the 2010 winners was $ 45,000.
Deadline – The deadline for submitting executive summaries, is usually during the month of January but varies with the location of the competing team

The William James Foundation Socially Responsible Business Plan Competition

About – The William James Foundation Socially Responsible Business Plan Competitionis geared towards finding and awarding the best socially responsible for profit business with clearly defined social and environmental goals. Even if you do not win the competition, the detailed feedback provided by the judges could go a long way in honing your business plan.
Prize – The seventh annual competition had a dozen winners and $ 100,000 in prizes. There is no age limit or any location restrictions.
Deadline – To participate you need to feel the ‘Intent to compete’ form and send an executive summary before the deadline (September 10 and December 3 in 2010). Enrolling early helps as you get your feedback earlier and can then prepare for the next round.

Tufts $100,000 Business Plan Competition

About – The Tufts $100,000 Business Plan Competition is sponsored by the Tufts Entrepreneurial Leadership Program. The competition has two streams – the Classic Competition and the Social Entrepreneurship Competition for budding social entrepreneurs.
Who can participate – Participating teams must have a Tuft student or alumnus as a member.
Prize – The awards total $ 100,000 in cash and in-kind services.
Deadline – Not available


About – VeriZon is an initiative of IIT Bombay. Anyone can participate in the competition and all participants stand the chance of winning venture funding but the award money can be claimed only by student teams. Businesses with a for-profit model or those with a non-profit model coupled with sustainable revenue generation can participate in this competition.
Who can participate – The competition is open for any budding social entrepreneur with an innovative solution capable of bringing about a positive social change.
Prize – The total prize money at stake is Indian rupees 100,000
Deadline – Usually in August


About – Wantrapreneur is the intellectual property of Villgro, a leading social enterprise incubator. The Lemelson Foundation also supports Wantrapreneur. Wantrapreneur is a business plan competition that tries to identify ideas capable of propelling meaningful change in the agriculture, energy, dairy and water sectors in Indian rural areas.
Who can participate – Any Indian citizen above the age of 18 who has a functioning business in the start up or early growth phase. Only independent businesses, headquartered in India and that have been in operation for at least six months are eligible to apply.
Prize –Up to Indian Rupees 150,000 and an opportunity to pitch your ideas to social investors.
Deadline – Usually in November

Have we missed any social enterprise business plan competitions? Please let us know in your comments below.

Main image credit – Drawing business plan by Pix

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