Three Steps to Winning Business Plan Competitions
Ting Shih, founder of ClickMedix, discusses the best way to structure your business plan pitch so you can come out on top.
I founded my healthcare technology company, ClickMedix, while I was a graduate student at MIT’s Development Ventures class. Our mission is to improve the health of over one billion people. We currently have deployments in 18 countries, and serve more than a quarter million patients — all without investor money. I have been funding my startup by winning business plan competitions and through paying customers. Here are three steps to winning business plan competitions:
Step 1. Show Traction
What distinguishes your business, from winning and losing, is the fact that you have actual customers paying for your innovative solution. If you are not currently collecting payment, then provide solid, irrefutable evidence that many people will pay for your solution.
Why? Given only a 3–5 minute pitch, judges or investors need to know that your solution will make money. The best way to prove that your business will be hugely profitable is to show that it already makes money or that it will generate revenues with certainty.
A winning pitch may start as: Most of us are familiar with this problem, and our solution has generated $x amount of revenues or y users growing at z% monthly. I generally have one image, which I use to briefly illustrate the problem and communicate the main message. Then, I indicate that we have global deployments, paying customers, and customers who refer new customers to us, resulting in strong revenues and high growth year after year.
Step 2. Show Market Potential
When I first started answering the question, “what’s the market size of your business”, I went through various market research reports to show that the market is really large. Although these figures are important, what matters most to winning the contest is that your solution can address the need in the market, and that the market is growing.
Why? Marketing figures are generally large, e.g. hundreds of millions or billions. But judges and investors need to know how a new company can actually tackle that market- either by winning over customers of existing larger companies, or through a new solution that addresses customers’ unmet needs.
Most pitches go like this: “The market size for our solution is $50Billion and growing at 30% CAGR. We are on our way to tackle that market.”
By contrast, a winning pitch will include phrases such as: “At $50Billion with a 30% CAGR, this market is large and growing, our solution is better than existing solutions, we have already won business over current competitors, and these customer segments are growing.”
Step 3. Show You’re the One that Can Best Solve the Problem
Once you’ve demonstrated that you are successful and can be profitable, and that the profit has tremendous growth potential, one of the most important questions to address is whether you have the best solution for your customers.
Why? While your solution may be innovative, it’s important to articulate how it is different than existing solutions. Given a fixed amount of money a customer would spend to solve their problem, judges and investors need to know that these customers would pay for your solution instead of the others.
A winning pitch includes a competitive landscape or other comparable information, PLUS the “secret sauce” for why your solution would win customers more frequently and faster than any other solution. The secret sauce can be special skills of team members, it can be a partnership agreement with an important channel partner or distributor, or ways you can build your solution faster and cheaper than your competitors. For a B2B solution such as ClickMedix, one way to show how we solve the problem better, faster, and cheaper is through implementation stories or case studies where we describe the problem we solved for our customers, how we solved it faster and cheaper, and yielded better results.
Business plan competitions are more or less a zero-sum game. Judges will have to pick a fixed number of winners, usually based on a scoring scheme within the evaluation criteria. Your goal is to be their best pick of the competitors. When going through the three steps to winning, strategize your presentation so that you can score the highest within the evaluation criteria- higher than the competition.
Ting Shih founded ClickMedix, an award-winning healthcare technology enterprise born out of MIT Media Lab to enable health organizations to serve more patients through its eHealth platform. Her areas of expertise include mHealth solution design, competitive strategy, lean/Six Sigma process improvement and operations management. She spent five years implementing mobile health programs across 15 countries in North America, South America, Africa, and Asia to develop financially sustainable health programs through ClickMedix. The programs equipped health workers, nurses, pharmacists, and physicians with smartphones to capture patient symptoms information, images, and other related health data to be transmitted to remote specialists who can provide diagnosis and treatment advice. Ting is the Cartier Women’s Initiative Laureate 2012 for North America. She holds an MBA and MS in Systems Engineering from MIT. In addition, she holds a BS in Computer Science and MS in Software Design and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.