Programs exist to accelerate the entrepreneurship process -- by providing early access to capital, marketing resources, and unparalleled communities.
When you become an entrepreneur, there will most likely come a point when you have to take significant risks. It is a large part of what defines an entrepreneur -- someone who wishes to add value to the world in a new way -- many times, by exploring uncharted business territory. You may risk your personal finances, security, and relationships to implement your idea in the real world -- and over 80% of ideas fail. Often times, there is not much to go on when making these decisions. For some, being an entrepreneur is not even a question -- it is exactly who you always thought you would be. Whether you were born an entrepreneur or strive to become one, there are a multitude of business plan competitions and incubation programs that provide potential start-ups with the tools and answers to everything it takes to begin your business.
Overview: Chances are the future wave of tech IPO's we see will be coming from a graduate of Start-Up America
Steve Case, co-founder of AOL, recently launched Start-Up America, which has brought together an incredible founders circle to help Start-Up America's growing network. It includes friends Michael Dell (Founder of Dell), Reed Hastings (Founder of Netflix), Reid Hoffman (Founder of LinkedIn), Tory Burch (CEO of Tory Burch), and Magic Johnson, to name a select few. The goal of the platform is to find "speedups" -- start-ups already with staff and revenue with high-growth potential. Even if you are not in this category, Start-Up America's partnerships are what matter the most. The ability to assist budding companies with free products or services such as Salesforce, payroll services or Google's business suite among hundreds of other essentials for a new business is valuable for any start-up.
Overview: Heard about the solar cell-phone charging station replacing the grid in Africa? Sounds pretty Unreasonable
With a tenant from George Bernard Shaw "All progress depends on the unreasonable man," Unreasonable Institute was born. Unreasonable brings 25 entrepreneurs together that work to address massive social or environmental problems. In addition, these entrepreneurs have generated at least $1 in revenue from selling its core product or service. Unreasonable Fellows have 50 days to crowdsource $10,000 in order to be selected for a six week crash course in scaling their business. At the heart of the program is its "mentorship matching," that includes a large array of like-minded entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to walk each team through the pitfalls of growing a business.
Best of the rest: Echoing Green, StartingBloc, Ashoka Foundation
Overview: Have an idea that you think will change the world? Now is the time to put it on paper and get free advice on whether it can actually work.
A socially-focused business plan competition for idea and venture stage business plans, the William James Foundation is a great starting point for testing out any new idea. At the core of the WJF competition is its judging process, which provides deep analysis and feedback on your business plan regardless of your future efforts of advancing to the further stages of the competition process. Over 500 judges are matched according to the plans that fit their background. In addition to the feedback on their plans, winners receive cash prizes and a large selection of essential business-building prizes such as free design work, legal services, or entry into incubator programs.
Best of the rest: Wantraprenuer Business Plan Competition for Social Entrepreneurs, Dell Social Innovation Challenge, Clean Tech Open, Skoll Foundation Awards
Whether you are in the idea stage, just starting, or ready for growth - it is time to start taking advantage of these supportive programs. Have one that I've missed? Add the competitions, networks or incubation programs you know of in the comments section below.