If you are one of those small businesses (like ours) that is never going to attract the attention of venture capitalists or get purchased by Amazon for a gazillion dollars like Zappo’s was, there is one arena where we can compete: business contests.

Believe it or not there are many opportunities for small businesses to earn cash, prizes and recognition. Mannequin Madness is actual proof as we have won a business contest almost every year that we have been in business. We’ve developed such a reputation that Inc magazine interviewed us for an article recently called “tips to entering business contest to win“.

Some of the contests we have entered did not have a cash or cash equivalent prize, but they brought us instant credibility and recognition. This was the case when we won a special achievement award from the Environmental Protection Agency. This award might not mean much to the average business owner. But if you are a green business like ours who needs to encourage retail chains to do business with you because you can help them fulfill their green business initiatives, then a stamp of approval from the EPA is a good thing. And we received lots of press and a cool award for our office.

Other times we hit the jackpot, like when we won $100,000 in technology from Intel or more recently when we won 10 round trip business class tickets courtesy of British Airways with their Face to Face competition. In the case of British Airways we not only won the tickets but we were featured in their print and online advertising campaigns

This brought us publicity that we could never afford to buy on our own and really helped us to stand out from the competition. We landed a huge mannequin removal project from a national retail chain shortly after this advertising campaign started.

While the judges in business contests are not looking to take a piece of your business like a venture capitalist would, they do want to make sure that they are giving the prize to someone they feel has the business savvy to utilize the prize to the fullest. Meaning the bigger the prize, the more challenging the application process may be.

Most will require that you submit a written or video essay, others may require you submit a detailed business plan or give a presentation to a panel of judges. Others require that you solicit votes from the public (I personally detest these types of contest, as typically they awarded not on talent or creativity but on popularity (think Bristol Palin beating out Brandy on Dancing with the Stars)

There are all types of business contests. Some of them require that your business be in a certain industry, or have a certain dollar volume or that the owners fit a certain demographic. For example Make Mine A Million is for women business owners who want to grow their business to a million dollars in year in revenue.

And Miller Beer offers a contest that requires that the business be located in a urban city and that the owner is under age 35. (I guess this is the beer company’s way of throwing a bone to inner cities which are littered with liquor stores and empty beer cans which cause a whole host of problems for the community at large and urban youth in particular)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Encore Careers, an organization that supports people 45 and over to find careers or start businesses that combine purpose, passion and a paycheck is sponsoring a unique contest. They will give $5,000 to 5 people over the age of 45  seed money to start their own venture that will improve their community.

Encore Careers also sponsors the Purpose Prize the nation’s only large-scale investment in people over 60 who are combining their passion and experience for social good. The Prize awards up to $100,000 each to 10 people in encore careers creating new ways to solve tough social problems.

We hear about all kinds of contests and periodically will post them here on our blog (especially those that we don’t plan on entering ourselves). If we find that there is enough interest in our knowledge of business contests and how to win them we may consider putting together a directory or guidebook. Would this be something that could be useful for you?

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