The Ireland Funds Business Plan Competition 2016, which opened for entries on Monday, March 7th, is seeking innovative business ideas from Ireland’s early stage entrepreneurs. Now in its fifth year, this competition invites students and recent graduates from Ireland and Northern Ireland to submit their business ideas for a chance to win €10,000, whilst two runners up will receive €5,000 and €1,000 respectively.
“The Idea behind the business plan competition is a way to encourage entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial students to really think about what ideas they have in terms of business, how they’re going to sell those ideas, what they’re going to do to make those ideas a success, and how they would pitch that to potential investors and customers” said Caitriona Fottrell, Vice President and Director Ireland, The Ireland Funds. “[The competition] is about helping entrepreneurs to grow that spirit, that passion and that energy they will need to have when they go out into the real world and have to make their ideas a reality and a real business.”
While many students entering the competition come from business degrees Fottrell encourages that “we’ve seen [entrants] come from everywhere; from engineering to geology to medical students. Obviously we’ve had more business students then the rest, but there isn’t a subject stream that hasn’t shown up at some point … We had one incredibly odd, but totally engaging pitch from geology students last year.”
While only two of the past five winners are currently still pursuing their initial idea, the first winner of the competition, Lukas Decker, has developed has continued to develop his business proposal, receiving over €2m from high-profile investors. The venture, Coindrum, is backed by Declan Ryan (co-founder and former CEO Ryanair) and Hostelworld co-founder Tom Kennedy, collects passengers unwanted departure and foreign currency coins and turns them into vouchers redeemable at duty-free outlets.
The competition was established as a result of their founding donor Bill McKiernan’s involvement in the equivalent competition at the Harvard Business School. According to Fottrell, Bill McKiernan “has always been clear that [the competition] is about the pitch and the entrepreneur rather than the idea itself.”
At the final on June 22nd, which will be held in the Google offices, a panel of leading entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from Ireland and the US will review the finalists’ business plans and select the winners.
“While the decision is made on the pitch for the panel on the final day we have tried to offer more than just that opportunity for the students who get involved in the process” said Fottrell. “We offer two specific full days of training for 20-25 plans that make it through the initial process … one is around the business structure of the plan, and the other is about the pitching.”
“We have a semi-final, where we put 14 plans in front of that panel, and depending on their strength between 5 and 8 plans will go through to the final panel in June.” While there are three main winners, Fottrell maintained that “there is an opportunity for all of them to expand their personal and their business networks on the day through the final.”
The competition is open to undergraduates, post-graduates and recent graduates (within two years of graduation) in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Existing startups are eligible to enter, as long as the applicants themselves meet the above criteria. Applications can be submitted online at www.theirelandfunds.org/bpc by April 7th 2016.
- Adam Hetherington, Business Editor