I recently met with a startup team with a great invention that has tremendous potential. But like other teams I’ve met they’ve gotten caught up in “startup competition” fever. When we asked them how they were spending their time, more effort was going into entering a multitude of entrepreneurship contests and taking courses in entrepreneurship than in developing their breakthrough product!
When asked why they were entering so many contests they said it wasn’t for the prize money it was for the credibility! Given the outstanding academic and work credentials of this team they already had credibility to spare. More to the point, I’ve never met an investor who invested in a startup because they won a startup competition! VCs and angels invest in the team, the market opportunity, and the product. What they want to see is an engaged and rapidly growing customer base, a market with huge potential, and a defensible position. Entrepreneurial contests? Not so much.
That doesn’t mean you should ignore these competitions and demo days completely. To the contrary, demo days are great ways to get your product and your pitch in front of a lot of investors. A very efficient way of pitching! Something like 19 of 23 startups who showed at last year’s MIT VMS Demo Day got funded within a year of that event.
The same goes for startup courses – there are a lot of them and you could take up all your time studying what it takes to be an entrepreneur. And that fine if you want to teach entrepreneurship, but if you want to do a startup focus on two things: building your product and getting to know your customers.