Using Pitch Competitions to Develop Sustainability Skills and Businesses

Faso-Soap-GSVCMany business students enter their degree programs hoping that, one day, they will become entrepreneurs, starting and growing their own businesses. In addition to a range of courses and electives focused on entrepreneurship, there has also been a significant increase in the number of local and global pitch competitions. At a pitch competition, teams of students can pitch their business ideas with the opportunity to win significant cash prizes and investments to kick-start their businesses. Win or lose, the competitions allow for important mentorship, advisory support, opportunities to network with important people in the industry, including investors and instant validation for a business idea.

There are several business schools around the world offering such opportunities, including, but not limited to, the following:

The Global Social Venture Competition, based at the University of California, Berkeley, provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring, PR, and $50,000 in prizes to transform their ideas into businesses that will have positive real-world impact. Teams are evaluated over three rounds: at their school, at the regional semi-finals and at the global finals. At each stage, they get support and feedback from local experts and social entrepreneurs. Last year, GSVC received more than 500 entries from 40 countries. This year, the finals will take place in Thailand at Thammasat Business School. This will be the first time the finals are held outside the US.

Morgan Stanley and Kellogg School of Management, along with international partners INSEAD and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, created the Sustainable Investing Challenge. This pitch competition for graduate students focuses on developing institutional-quality investment vehicles that seek positive environmental or social impact and competitive financial returns. The winners of last year’s challenge formed their own start-up in the world of conservation finance based on their winning entry involving the creation of Forest Resilience Bonds in the US. This year, the deadline for applying is February 24th, 2016 and ten finalist teams will gather in Hong Kong in April 2016 to pitch their financial investment proposals for specific social or environmental projects. Last year, 127 teams entered, representing 78 schools from 20 countries.

The Intel Global Challenge at University of California, Berkeley, is the world’s largest and most prestigious technology entrepreneurship competition, attracting more than 20,000 young innovators and entrepreneurs from 60 countries. Finalists present their work to experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists at regional and final competitions as they vie for $100,000 in prizes. The winners are considered those that have the most potential to make a positive impact on society.

The Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award was launched by Dow in 2009 to promote forward-thinking in social and environmental responsibility. The challenge engages students from 18 universities around the world to come up with solutions that are interdisciplinary in nature, represent innovative thinking, and have the potential for solving world challenges in alignment with the spirit of Dow’s Sustainability Goals. The winning university receives $10,000 USD in prizes.

The Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition at Singapore Management University is aimed at undergraduate students from around the world who, if chosen, stand to win up to $60,000 USD in cash, prizes and business development opportunities. Teams submit a business plan that goes through preliminary and semi-final rounds before making it to the final round in Singapore. There is also a cash award granted to the “Most Promising Young Entrepreneur.” Last year’s competition saw 121 business plans from 336 students representing 28 countries. Over time, there has been an increase in the number of plans that relate to sustainability.

London Business School and the University College of London launched the Cleantech Challenge. Teams of students from around the world develop their clean technology business ideas through a three-stage competition that runs from November through April. They receive guidance, feedback and mentorship from industry professionals throughout the Challenge. Ten finalist teams compete in a live “Boot Camp” final in London for a chance to win GBP 10,000 in cash.

The Hult Prize Foundation is a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from universities worldwide. The prize, awarded annually, aims to inspire the creation and launch of the most compelling social business ideas. Winners receive USD 1 million in seed capital, as well as mentorship and advice from the international business community. Last year’s winner was National Chengchi University from Taiwan. The 2016 challenge looks at crowded urban spaces, and poses the following question: can we build sustainable, scalable and fast growing social enterprises that double the income of 10 million people residing in crowded urban spaces by better connecting people, goods, services and capital?

Does your school have a pitch competition? Share the details in the comments below.

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