How to run a successful startup competition?

Written by
Nicholas Hawkins
Table of Contents

Innovation brings in new ideas, shapes industries and has a large impact across all sectors. Startup competitions allow for these innovations to be seen by creating a platform for startups and established companies to come together in a competition of creativity and ingenuity. That’s why at Venture IQ, we are proud to introduce a new feature on our software platform that’s been specifically designed to manage and streamline the entire process of running a startup competition so that when it comes to running such an event, the focus remains where it matters, on the startups! But before we get to that....

What is a startup competition?

A startup competition is an event where early-stage companies compete against each other by presenting their business ideas, products, or services to a panel of judges. These judges typically consist of industry experts, investors, and representatives from the hosting organization. The purpose of these competitions is to identify and support promising startups that align with the host company's strategic interests, fostering innovation and collaboration in the process. Some well known competitions include Xprize, Cemex Startup Competition, Ted Prize or the Composite Engineering Challenge hosted by Mitsubishi Chemical Group. 

Why host a startup competition?

These startup competitions offer numerous benefits to both host companies and participating startups. For host companies, these competitions provide a pipeline of fresh ideas and potential investments. Participating startups benefit from increased exposure, validation of their concepts, and potential partnerships or investments.

Tips for running a smooth startup competition

Hosting a startup competition requires careful planning and organization. Here are 8 steps to help you get the most out of it and run a streamlined startup competition.

1. Define your goals

The foundational step in organizing a startup competition is to clearly define your goals. Your objectives provide the compass for the entire competition journey. Consider these potential motives:

  • Build a network of startups in your industry.
  • Establishing brand awareness and positioning your organization as an industry leader.
  • Addressing a specific challenge by seeking innovative solutions.
  • Identifying promising companies for potential partnerships or investments.
  • Cultivating a culture of innovation within your industry.

By identifying your goal, you can tailor the competition design and measure your success throughout the project.

2. Define the scope and criteria for the competition

After establishing your goals, it’s important to consider the types of startups and solutions you want to target with your competition.

  • Determine the stage of development you're targeting: early-stage startups, established companies, or scale-ups.
  • Tailor your criteria to attract the right participants
  • Define whether your competition is industry specific or open to various solutions from various sectors.

These considerations not only guide your evaluation process but also help potential participants gauge their fit for the competition. A well-defined scope and criteria set the stage for attracting startups that align with your competition's goals.

3. Design the contest

Creating a well-designed is key to its success and means applicants know what to expect.

  • Select a name that clearly reflects the competition's focus.
  • Establish a clearly defined timeline, including submission deadlines, feedback milestones, and important dates such as the final event. 
  • Highlight what you have to offer startups and an incentive for them to participate. Potential benefits can include coaching, partnership opportunities or access to investment.
  • Consider potential partnerships in your industry, as it helps enhance the competition's attractiveness and broadens the expertise available. Potential parters are also incentivised by gaining a pipeline of potential investments.

A thoroughly designed approach will lead to a higher number of engaged applicants.

4. Set up a smooth application process

Creating a seamless application process will also attract high quality applicants and ensure a positive experience right from the beginning. 

  • Choose the right platform where all the applicants' information will be stored
  • Craft a clear application form and provide guidelines on how to fill it out. 
  • Integrate the form into your website to give the process more authority.
  • Make sure you follow up on your applicants and communicate regular updates, especially if there are any changes to deadlines or evaluation times.
  • You’re dealing with sensitive information and potentially a future unicorn, so clearly define and implement data security measures. 

A smooth and user-friendly application process will mean startups are more likely to take the initiative to participate and builds trust amongst those that apply. 

5. Select an experienced panel of judges

Choosing knowledgeable judges is essential for a credible and fair competition. You must take into consideration:

  • Choose a diverse group of experienced industry experts and investors. 
  • Clearly communicate with the judges before the competition to orient judges on the goal of the competition and address any questions. 
  • Provide clear criteria for them to evaluate the startups.
  • Express gratitude for their contributions to foster future collaborations.

A carefully selected judging panel enhances your competition's integrity.

6. Market the startup competition

Effectively marketing your startup competition is essential to attract a diverse range of qualified participants. Follow these strategies to ensure your competition gains traction and garners attention

  • Develop a clear message and make sure you communicate the benefits of participating. This can include and investment, exposure, mentorship, or potential partnerships.
  • Create engaging content such as blog posts, videos, and infographics, that explains the competition's benefits and requirements.
  • Leverage your existing network and contacts to spread the word about the competition. Encourage them to refer potential participants.
  • Provide regular updates to the competition, which keeps the competition at the forefront of participants' minds.

7. Assess and compare the application

With potentially hundreds of applications to assess, managing the evaluation process can become a daunting task. Furthermore, crucial to the success of the startup competition is a fair and transparent process. As such, a platform such as Catalist, that facilitates the collection, assessment, and decision-making processes is essential. 

  • Define clear and specific criteria for evaluating applications. Ensure judges understand the importance of each criterion.
  • Consider conducting preliminary evaluations to narrow down the pool of applicants and focus and the promising startups.
  • Implement a consistent scoring system to objectively rank submissions and assign appropriate weights to different evaluation criteria.
  • Monitor evaluator progress throughout the competition to ensure completion amongst evaluators. 

By adhering to a structured and fair evaluation process, you can identify standout startups and maintain a fair competition.

8. Provide feedback and pick a winner

Delivering valuable feedback and selecting a winner is the culmination of your competition. 

  • Provide constructive feedback to all participants, regardless of their ranking. Highlight strengths, areas for improvement, and potential next steps.
  • Organise an event where finalists can present their startup. This allows them to showcase their ideas and address questions.
  • During the event and using your communication platforms, publicly announce the winners. 

By providing insightful feedback and selecting winners transparently, you create a positive experience for participants which will have a positive impact on further startup challenges you may run.

Catalist as startup competition management software

At Venture IQ, we understand the intricacies of running a startup competition, as we are experts in assessing companies and selecting winners for our clients. Our software platform, Catalist ,has been designed to streamline every aspect of the process and can help you run a smooth startup competition.

Key Features

  • Automated data entry: Through an API, applications pages are directly linked to our platform, ensuring real time data capture.
  • Custom applicant fields: Include as many questions as in necessary for your competition.
  • Custom evaluation criteria: You pick on what criteria the applicants are to be assessed on. 
  • Flow analytics: Gain real time insights into the applicant flow and evaluation progress, allowing you to monitor progress and make adjustments where needed.
  • Structured data and visual screening tools: Easily assess and evaluate startups with the help of intuitive tools within the platform. 
  • Dedicated support team: Our team is always ready to ensure a smooth and successful competition.

Learn more about our software for startup challenges or contact us for a demo.

All related tags to this article:
Article written by
Nicholas Hawkins