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Business Plan Competition

The UW Business Plan Competition (BPC), organized by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, provides a real-world experience for student entrepreneurs, promoting student ideas and new venture creation to the entrepreneurial community. Participating in the BPC gives students practice in the dynamics of venture creation by developing an idea, putting together a founding team, writing a business plan, and presenting to investors. In fact, many ideas that started as a BPC project turned into a start-up company through the BPC process! The BPC is open to undergrads and grad students at colleges and universities across the state of Washington.

  • 20 years of the BPC
  • $1.4 million: Prize money awarded to 154 student companies
  • 4,693: Number of students who participated in the BPC
  • 1,453: Student teams entered in the BPC since 1998
  • 598: Entrepreneurs and investors who took part in the 2017 BPC as judges, advisers, and mentors.


The BPC begins with the initial Screening Round online from April 5–8, 2018. There are four subsequent rounds, all competitive elimination rounds, from April 25 through May 24, 2018. From the deadline to apply on April 2 through the end of the competition, the Buerk Center hosts office hours with mentors, workshops, and information sessions, all designed to help students go from idea to launch!

Business Plan Competition Event Schedule 2018

Date Event
Team Building & Networking Night
Anthony’s Executive Forum, Dempsey Hall room 302Final ( and largest) networking event before the 2018 competitions!
Thursday, January 18
7–8:30 pm
BPC Registration Opens Monday, March 12
DEADLINE TO ENTER: Submit 5-7 page Executive Summary
(see Preparation tab below for examples of past submissions)
Monday, April 2
by 11:59 pm
Screening Round (Closed, Online Session—Judges Only) April 5–8
Announcement of the 36 teams advancing to the live Investment Round Monday, April 9
Additional competition rounds
Investment Round (top 36)
Tradeshow-style event. Announcement of advancing teams at 6 pm
Wednesday, April 25
Coaching Round (top 16)
This is a noncompetitive, but mandatory session.
Thursday, May 17
Sweet Sixteen (top 16) and Final Round (top 4) Thursday, May 24
Dinner and Awards Ceremony (all teams from Investment Round, judges, sponsors) Thursday, May 24


Teams in the Business Plan Competition must comply with the following criteria to be eligible for the competition.

  • Teams entering the University of Washington’s Business Plan Competition must have at least one full-time or part-time student on the team who is enrolled in a degree seeking program at an accredited college or university in Washington state. If you graduated in Summer quarter 2016 or later, you are considered a current student in the competition.
  • The business plan must be developed during the student’s tenure at the university. Students working with outside entrepreneurs must create an original business plan.
  • All submissions to the Business Plan Competition must live up to the higher ideals of the University of Washington. Your idea must be appropriate for a university-sponsored event. The Buerk Center reserves the right to disqualify any entry that in its judgment violates the letter or the spirit of the competition or exceeds the bounds of social convention.
  • If the company is revenue positive, the company’s actual annual revenue cannot exceed $500k. Please note this is different than the company’s projected revenue. This rule does not apply to projected revenue.
  • Eligible students can form a team with non-student business community members or alumni, but there are restrictions to this involvement (see below).
  • In the Investment Round, no more than four team members, including both students and non-students, can present the new business concept to the judges. In the Sweet Sixteen and Final Rounds of the competition, only student team members will be allowed to make presentations to the judges.
  • Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  • Only student members of a team may use the MentorConnect and Office Hours resources. Non-student members may not reach out to mentors nor should they attend any Office Hours appointments, even if accompanied by a student. These resources are for students only.
  • Only student team members are eligible to earn prize money. No payments will be made to non-students.

Note: The Director of the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship reserves the right to make the final determination of the eligibility of submitted business ventures.


The UW Business Plan Competition considers all submitted business plans as confidential and treats all team matters accordingly. However, we cannot guarantee complete confidentiality for proprietary matters.

Therefore, we strongly encourage any team with concerns regarding intellectual property, copyright, or patent confidentiality to either contact their University’s intellectual property office (for University-developed discoveries) or competent legal counsel (for non-University related discoveries). The University of Washington, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, the Foster School of Business, and the organizers of the competition are not responsible for any proprietary information and/or intellectual property included in a submitted business plan.

Ultimately, protection of sensitive materials is the sole responsibility of the individual or team participating in the competition.


Whether you’re preparing to enter a competition or just want to explore the process of starting a startup, the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship offers numerous ways to prepare—networking events, special-topic workshops, panel sessions with experts, and more!

Team Formation & Networking Nights 2017-2018

Innovative? Have an idea? How do you find the right people to join your team? How do you find a team to join? Check out these topic-oriented team formation events hosted by the Buerk Center. Pitch your idea, pitch your skills, meet students from disciplines across campus at these fun and casual meetup events. All team formation events are 5:30-8:00 pm.

Maker Mixer
Wed, Oct 18, Fluke Hall Maker Space, room 215

Design Thinking
Wed, Nov 1, HUB 250

Rapid Prototyping
Tue, Nov 14, Area 01 (Maple Hall 122)

Panel of Past Participants (HIC, EIC & BPC)
Wed, Dec 6, HUB 214

Networking & Team Formation Final Event!
Thur, January 18, 2018
Dempsey Hall, Anthony’s Executive Forum, 3rd floor

Startup Workshops 2017-2018

Are you tossing around ideas for a startup venture, but not sure where to begin? These startup workshops are for you! Learn some basic strategies to get started. Brainstorming ideas, figuring out your customers, checking out competition, and how to pull the pieces together into a plan—you’ll start the process into developing your own venture! All workshops take place in Area 01, Maple Hall 122, from 12:30 to 2:00 pm.

Workshop: Ideation
Thu, Oct 12

Workshop: Customer Discovery
Thu, Oct 26

Workshop: Market and Competitors
Thu, Nov 9

Workshop: Preparing Your Plan to Launch
Thu, Nov 30

Start-Up Resources

The Buerk Center’s start-up resources feature our favorite tips, blogs and resources for writing solid business plans, making a great pitch, securing funding, marketing, and more.

Learn by Example

Take a look at 5-7 page executives summaries submitted in previous years:

To view more business summaries contact Amy Sallin. In order to prepare your own executive summary, use this Submission Checklist, which includes the judging criteria judges will be using in the Screening Round to evaluate all entries.

Judging criteria

The UW Business Plan Competition is comprised of four competitive rounds (Screening Round, Investment Round, Sweet 16, and Final Round) and one non-competitive Coaching Round, designed to prepare teams for the Sweet 16 and Final Round.

Screening Round

The Screening Round takes place online, and is the first major hurdle for students participating in the Business Plan Competition. Student teams submit their business plan executive summaries online. Over the course of a weekend, each business plan executive summary is read and scored by eight to ten judges who are encouraged to provide written feedback for students. After the Screening Round, an announcement of teams advancing to the Investment Round is sent via email. Please also review the submission checklist.

NOTE: Scoring based on 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), with 3 being of the caliber to advance to the next round

Overall Impression of the Executive Summary

Does the summary adequately describe the idea — does the idea make sense?
Has the team adequately described the pain in the marketplace?
Do you believe the team has presented a feasible solution?
Is the summary well written and succinct?
Does the summary create excitement?

Bonus: Does the team discuss measurable efforts to minimize consumption, use, and byproduct waste, while bolstering profitability/cost containment?

Management team

Does this management team have the skills required to execute the plan?
Does this team have the experience to lead a new venture?

Market opportunity

Have they adequately described the market and economic opportunity?
Have they clearly stated their value proposition? Is it a viable model?

Competitive strategy

Has the team completely analyzed its competitive space?
Does the summary clearly identify the company’s initial competitive advantage or differentiator?
Does the team have an adequate strategy for defending their market position?

Go to market strategy

Is it clear how the company will reach its initial customer?
Does the summary clearly identify a sales strategy?
Is the distribution plan clearly defined and reasonable?


Has the team made progress toward any milestones (licenses, patents, etc…)
Has the company signed customers and/or channel partners?
Has the company booked any revenue?


Are the financials consistent with the overall plan?
Are the assumptions realistic?
Are contingencies and exit strategies addressed?
Does the plan describe the funding/resources required to execute on the plan?

Investment Round

The Investment Round, arguably the most exciting event of the competition, follows a trades show format in which teams set up intricate displays and interact with judges to pitch the team’s idea. The judges, all prominent members of the local entrepreneurial community, are given one thousand “Buerk Center dollars” to invest in a portfolio of teams that they consider the “most viable” – that is, with the best chance for success in the real world. At the end of the event, investment dollars are collected and tallied. The sixteen teams receiving the highest “funding” are announced at a reception immediately following and advance to the next round, the Sweet Sixteen.

We ask the judges to invest their $1,000 “Buerk Center dollars” in a minimum of 5 companies (student teams) and a well-rounded portfolio of companies. We also tell them: when you’re deciding which teams to invest in, ask yourself:

  • Does this business seem well thought out?
  • Has the team demonstrated knowledge of the industry and potential customers?
  • Is there a real opportunity here?
  • Has the team answered your questions?

Coaching Round

The Coaching Round is a noncompetitive round in which no teams are eliminated. This round gives teams the opportunity to practice their presentations in front of a panel of coaches from the local entrepreneurial community. This round is designed to provide teams with in-depth and constructive feedback that they can use to hone their business plans and pitches prior to the Sweet 16 and Final Rounds.

Sweet 16 Round and Final Round

After honing their presentations in the Coaching Round, each of the sixteen remaining teams is assigned to present to one of four panels of judges. Judges select the advancing teams based on the following criteria:
1. The Team: What are the team dynamics? What is the quality of the team? Does the team demonstrate the ability to execute on its plan? (Student-driven teams are a plus.)
2. The Market: Does the company’s product or service address the target market’s needs? (Opportunity size is a plus, but not the primary concern)
3. Viability: Is the business model viable, well-articulated, and reasonable? (The team’s IP position should be clear.)
4. Presentation: Did the team make a quality presentation? What was the quality of the team’s materials and data? How was the team’s ability to answer tough questions?

Each panel of judges will see four teams’ presentations. After all presentations are finished, judges will discuss the merits of each of their four teams and by process of consensus select one or two teams to go on to the Final Round in the afternoon.

The Final Round is open to viewing by all competition participants, faculty, students, and the public. Each team has 30 minutes to present to and answer questions from a panel of judges (these judges have not seen any teams’ presentations prior to the Final Round.) The judges reach their decisions about team ranking by consensus using the same criteria as the Sweet 16 judges.

The UW Business Plan Competition would not be possible without the generous support of our sponsors. Below are the sponsors of the 2017 BPC.

Learn about Business Plan Competition sponsorship opportunities.

2017 Prizes

$25,000 Grand Prize sponsored by the Herbert B. Jones Foundation
$10,000 Second Place Prize sponsored by Fran’s Chocolates
$7,500 Third Place Prize sponsored by Friends of the BPC
$5,000 Fourth Place Prize sponsored by Fenwick & West

Big Picture Prizes ($5,000)

The Big Picture and Best Idea prizes were created to reward student teams in the Business Plan Competition for their exceptional work in several distinct categories. The teams are selected by a special group of judges during the Investment Round, and the winners are announced at the dinner and awards ceremony in May. Please note that no team can take more than one Big Picture and/or Best Idea prize.

AARP Foundation > Aging in Place Prize
Targeted for teams that best address the challenges faced by low-income seniors: affordable age-in-place housing, affordable healthy food, increased income, and the impact of isolation on physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Winners of this prize will be considered by AARP for follow-on investment.

Xevo > Internet of Things (IoT) Prize
Recognizes a business venture that has incorporated new products or services that contribute to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem—devices, vehicles, infrastructure and/or other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, and network connectivity—that enables these objects to collect and exchange data to create new consumer experiences.

Wells Fargo Foundation > Clean Tech Prize
Goes to a venture with products, services, or processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes.

Best Idea Prizes for $2,500

REI > Best Retail Innovation Idea
Recognizes a venture that generates value through the delivery of goods and/or services, with an emphasis on customer service.

eBay > Best Marketplace Idea
Targeted for teams that creates a commerce or payments platform for communities of buyers, sellers or businesses.

Accenture > Best Consumer Product Idea
For a venture that offers a compelling new consumer product, focusing on a well-defined market.

Perkins Coie > Best Innovation/Technology Idea
Targeted for a venture that has a new application for a current technology, a disruptive technology, or an idea that represents a substantial improvement in a product or process.

Cambia Health Solutions > Best Health/Healthcare Idea
Recognizes a venture that offers new solutions or approaches to address health outcomes and/or improve the quality or efficiency of healthcare delivery.

DLA Piper > Best Idea with Global Reach
A venture that has aspirations for acquiring customers around the world.

Xinova > Best Idea for the Future
A venture that has a long time horizon, but is worth the wait.

Smukowski Family > Best Sustainable Advantage
A venture that offers new solutions or approaches to address health outcomes and/or improve the quality or efficiency of healthcare delivery.


Follow-on funding: Jones + Foster Accelerator
Up to $25,000 in follow-on funding is available to student-led start-ups coming out of the Business Plan Competition, the Health Innovation or Environmental Innovation Challenges, or entrepreneurship coursework.

In the Jones + Foster Accelerator, student teams transition to becoming early-stage start-ups. Teams admitted to the program will devote six months to completing a list of milestones with coaching from a committee of mentors. Learn more about the Jones + Foster Accelerator.

In the 18 years that the Buerk Center has produced its annual Business Plan Competition, 4,091 students (1,278 teams) have participated in the spring event. We’ve awarded more than $1.2 million in seed funding to 139 winning teams, many of which have gone on to make us proud. Here are several success stories.

Sewing the Seeds of Change
Crowdfunding Scientific Discovery
Evergreens 2013
So Fresh and So Green
Kien Ha, Shabu Chic
Making Shabu “Chic”
Kien Ha, Shabu Chic
2008 competitor
Thinking Inside the Box
Jacqueline Gjurgevich and Carrie Ferrence, Stockbox Grocers
2011 competitor
Phillip Lee
Meet Your New Apartment: You’ll Love Her
Phillip Lee,
2007 competitor
Wearable Video Camera Defy Economic Gravity
Marc Barros, Contour
2003 competitor
Dan Price
Gravity at the Speed of Light
Dan Price, Gravity Payments
2007 competitor
Val Trask
For Loyalty’s Sake: Follow the Smartphone
Val Trask, Punchkeeper
2011 competitor
Creating a Company One T-Shirt at a Time
Jeff Becker, Kotis Design
2002, 2003 and 2004 competitor
Amber Ratcliff
Lacing Together the Business of NanoString
Amber Ratcliff
2003 competitor
Kids with Hats Are on Track
Kohl Crecelius, Krochet Kids
2008 competitor
Friends + Baseball Tickets = an Epic Idea
Scott Barrows and James Kimmel, Epic Seats
2005 competitor
Making a Successful Korea Change
Darien Brown, Wander
2010 competitor
Impel Image
Device Helps Drugs Jump the Blood-Brain Barrier
John Hoekman and Michael Hite
2008 competitor

You can also view a complete history of Business Plan Competition winners for each year.

Can non-business students enter the competition?
Yes. The Business Plan Competition is open to ALL students who are currently enrolled in a degree program in the state of Washington.

If I don’t find any team members that really seem like “the right fit” during the Networking Nights, is it OK to have a “team” of just one person?
It is OK to have just one person on a team. However, if you advance to the Investment Round, you’ll want to add a few people to your team to help you pitch to judges.

Can we submit a business plan into the competition for a business that is or may become a nonprofit / social business in the future?
The competition is open to all types of businesses. Every year there are nonprofit or social-venture businesses in the competition.

Is there a BPC archive that has a synopsis of the BPC plans submitted so far?
Yes, but you must come to the Buerk Center to look at it. Be sure to call or email the Buerk Center office to set-up a time.

Can a student submit plans for more than one team?
You are allowed to participate in the Business Plan Competition with more than one team. It can be a logistical challenge to do that at the Investment Round and Sweet 16, but it is possible.

Am I allowed to have a faculty member as a mentor for the BPC?
You can have a faculty member as a mentor. You can also use MentorConnect to find experts who can help you with your company.

I am part of a company looking to recruit students to assist in taking my idea through the Business Plan Competition. How should I go about doing this?
The BPC is a process and competition for student-driven companies, and we have a strict policy guiding outside companies recruiting students to join their team in order to compete:

  • Students must have an ownership stake in the business or the potential for equity or employment.
  • Only student team members are eligible to earn prize money. No payments will be made to non-students.

Can I compete two years in a row?
Students are welcome and encouraged to participate as many times as they want–as long as they are a student (enrolled in a degree seeking program in Washington state) or have a student on their team.

Can I change the name of the business at some point during the competition?
You are allowed to change your company name during the competition. We recommend that you reference the name change in your documents (one-page executive summary or business plan).

Can I have more than four members on my team?
You can have as many people on your team as your like; there is no official limit. Most teams are three to five people, but you can do whatever makes the most sense for you. However, only four teammates can pitch at a time during the Investment Round. If you have more than four team members, you can tradeoff.

Is the list of judges for the Business Plan Competition available to the participants?
We don’t release our judge lists for any of the rounds.

Do judges or coaches usually sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements)?
Judges and coaches do not sign NDAs. This is common practice in the entrepreneurial world, especially when you are pitching your idea to investors. You should figure out a way to talk about your business, but not give away the confidential information that could be patented, trademarked, or that is simply your secret sauce.

How many judges are there at each round of the competition?
This depends on the round. Here’s the approximate breakdown

Screening round
Investment round
Sweet 16
Final round
8-10 judges will read your plan
250 judges
closed session with 7 judges
7 judges and open to the public

Contact Amy Sallin at or 206-685-9868.

Attend an event

Read the Business Plan Competition blog

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