So it’s that time again, Spring generates lots of cliches and lots of venture contests as well. What started a couple of decades ago at the University of Texas — as far as I know — has become fashionable all over.

If you’re curious, try a Google search for MBA venture contest and you’ll get more than 8,500 hits.

I like these competitions. They promote the process of entrepreneurship. They give the contestants a chance to stand up to judges, make a pitch, answer questions, and, essentially, get some related experience. They give the judges a chance to get out of the office and listen to new people and new ideas. I’ve been a judge at contests held by University of Notre Dame, University of Oregon, Carrott Capital, and Palo Alto Software, several years i a row. I enjoy it. Everybody wins.

The most interesting problem I’ve seen with the venture competitions is that most of them evaluate ventures as potential investments, not as potential businesses. For example, judges choosing between two otherwise-equal plans will always choose the one needing $3 million venture money over the one needing no outside money. That’s bothered me several times, in several different contests.

The most valuable feature I’ve seen in any one contest is the University of Oregon’s system providing feedback to teams that don’t win. Typically, in this contest, the teams that don’t make the cut for the finals get a serious session with the judges who decided against them. These sessions take at least half an hour, and the judges involve normally give them a great deal of thought. The teams competing take several days with travel and the competition, so judges try to make the feedback worth it. This is something that all the other contests should imitate.

Tim

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