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5 reasons to enter the Business Plan Challenge & your questions answered

You have less than two weeks left to participate in the 2015 Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge. If you are on the fence about whether to enter, here are five reasons to get moving:

1. Motivation. You’ve been meaning to write a business plan — this might just be that kick in the behind you need. Or perhaps you have a plan but need to refine your short version — those are in vogue this year. Whether you are entering the Community Track, open to all of South Florida, the FIU Track open to students and alumni of that university, or the High School Track, which is also open to eighth-graders this year, entering the Challenge will help you get moving.

2. Publicity. If you are one of the top three winners in each track or the “People’s Pick,” you will be profiled in a special section of the Miami Herald’s Business Plan Challenge announcing the winners. If you are in the top six in the Community or FIU Tracks, you will participate in the People’s Pick, our popular video contest hosted on MiamiHerald.com. We also announce our first cut, the semi-finalists, to keep the interest going. Social networking is a key component of our contest. Next year, we will look back on our winners and we follow them for years to come.

3. Feedback and education. I will share feedback from the judges with you if you request it, whether or not you are a finalist. If you are chosen for the aforementioned People’s Pick contest, that’s a terrific opportunity to polish your elevator pitch. If you are entering the High School Track, winning sure looks good on a college application. Also, winners receive free admissions to Florida International University entrepreneurship workshops and webinars so the learning will continue.

4. Exposure and connections. It can’t hurt to have your plan read by South Florida’s top entrepreneurial experts, including serial entrepreneurs and investors (judges’ bios are on MiamiHerald.com/challenge). Sometimes long-lasting mentorships are developed. Some winners have been introduced to investors or potential partners; others gained key customers. If you are one of the winners, you will also be honored at a luncheon with the judges and business staff and at FIU’s Hall of Fame reception. FIU’s Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center is our sponsor.

5. Pride. I know you’re passionate about your concept — and aren’t you just a wee-bit competitive?

The deadline is March 16. Contest rules are on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

If you entered last year and weren’t one of the top three winners, regroup and try again. Business ideas in the dream stage are fine for this contest. Class projects are welcome, and we love high school entries.

Do you have questions? Email ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Your questions answered:

Q. Is there a required template I should follow for my entry?

A. The short answer is no. Your entry is a three-page business plan, with one additional addendum page allowed for a chart or graphic, and we allow people the freedom to format it as they would like. But we suggest you consider including all or most of this information: brief product or service description, problem it is solving in the market (market need), a little about your target market and competition, relevant experience of your team, your business model (how you will make money) and how will you scale it, your marketing strategy and some financials, for example your startup costs and three years of projections. Keep each section brief — bulleted items are your friend. Many contestants use their extra page for their financial chart.

Some people download templates for business plans (easily found in a Google search) and include the categories most relevant. Some use an executive summary they already have written and add to it. People who already have investor decks have the information in a concise way — just put it into a 3-page word doc and you are done. Creative graphic presentations are fine, too. If you are starting from scratch, good for you! You have probably been meaning to do it anyway, and it will be a roadmap you can continue to update in months and years to come.

Missed our Business Plan Bootcamp? See our recap and full video here on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

Q. Why the three-page limit?

A. Short business plans are in vogue, actually. In today’s day and age, investors (and judges) want the information fast and brief and will ask for more info as they need it. They say that in real life, if you don’t capture their attention in the first page or even the first paragraph, they will move on.

Pro tip: Ask someone who doesn’t know anything about your business or business concept to read your plan, or at least the first few paragraphs, to make sure they understand it.

Also, though our judges are almost super-human, we can’t ask them to judge dozens of full business plans.

See more Q&As here on MiamiHerald.com/challenge