Now You be the Judge

So this is a refreshing change: a venture competition you can participate in. You be the judge, really, in the Forbes.com $100K Boost Your Business contest to be decided next month. Yes, you do get a vote! And, better still, before you vote you get to watch the presentations, and what Forbes.com Entrepreneurship editor Brett Nelson called "10 minutes of withering Q&A" that followed, as Web video.

I don’t have the exact website address yet, but you’ll be able to find it in the entrepreneurship section of Forbes.com. You can use this link to get a head start.  You can go there right now to see the five companies, what they do, who they are, where they are, and why they are interesting.

And they are all interesting companies, believe me. These five finalists were chosen from 20 semifinalists, from a field that started with more than 1,500 entries. There’s a wide range too, from companies with several million dollars of investment already, to companies looking for their first capital infusion. And some big names as well, among the early investors and advisors.

This is a great chance for you to get a good look at what these contests are like. I’ve posted before on this topic. I judge about half a dozen major venture competitions every year, including several of the top intercollegiate and international ones. This one is a good example to watch, for several reasons. First, applications are wide open instead of restricted to teams that have to have at least one MBA student. Second, the flow of presentation and questions and answers is typical, with the possible exception that usually they go 20 minutes of presentation and 20 minutes of Q&A, and this was 10 and 10. Third, most important, you can see it yourself, as it happened.

So what happened yesterday was the finals. I sat at a table with Brett and four other judges, in a video studio at the Forbes headquarters in New York. One by one, the five finalist companies delivered their carefully-timed 10-minute presentations. After each presentation, the judges got 10 minutes to ask questions. All of this was filmed and will be available.

I think the popular voting process is particularly intriguing. In every one of the contests I’ve judged for several universities, the process ends with winners chosen just a few hours later by the judges as a group.  In this one, you get a vote too.

I’m not going to spoil the fun by telling you which I’m going to vote for, or how the discussions went at lunch, after it was all over, between me and the other judges. I am going to tell you that the toughest problem is deciding how to choose between very different companies. For example, what if the one I’d like to have an ownership percentage in is not the one that I think will generate the most incremental sales from the prize money? Do I want a solid investment opportunity, or a high-risk high-growth opportunity. I’m not sure.

As I said above, you be the judge.

And you can click here to see the five finalists, and from there click deeper into their companies and backgrounds.

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