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They Will Tell You No. You Will Tell Them Yes.

I spent the weekend participating in Twin Cities Startup Weekend; a valuable startup contest of sorts. Venture Superfly was a proud sponsor, and I was a contest judge.

Overall, it was terrific. Nascent entrepreneurs met like-minded peers. Participants learned from successful business owners. New friends were made. Potential business partners were discovered. And many learned more about team-based product development.

Importantly, it was a fun innovation learning experience for all.

Truth is, however, I have mixed feelings about the contest aspect of these events (i.e. the picking winners and losers part). My primary feeling is that some might misinterpret what entrepreneurship is all about. Namely, that others (i.e. contest judges) can accurately predict your entrepreneurial success.

Successful entrepreneurship is less about a business idea or execution plan, and more about persistent motivation, focus, and adapting through uncertainty. Very few entrepreneurs have such a commitment and, more than anything, this is what makes a business succeed.

Problem is, contest judges have little information from which to judge this.

Many successful entrepreneurs that I know would wince at the judging aspects of these events. Not because they don’t provide real value, but because they sense that their original business idea, under the critique of a judge panel, would not have placed within the top 3 winners.

It’s likely that these entrepreneurs would recall their early startup challenges; their lack of clear marketing strategy, their sub-par operational plan, their questionable financing, etc.

In reality, most entrepreneurs find — or stumble upon — a tiny seam within a market, wedge themselves into it, and will their success to happen, despite challenging circumstances. And many of these niche businesses are not sexy or well understood by others, including contest judges.

Additionally, a key reason why entrepreneurs start a business is to avoid a boss’s (read: a judge’s) terms, method of doing things, and perception of their personal limitations. Entrepreneurs sense how they can do it their own way, they want to follow their own instincts, navigate their own path, and leverage their unique strengths, despite often obvious weaknesses.

Of course, I definitely support the idea of nurturing entrepreneurial communities and cultures, as was done this past weekend. And these events do that.


Know, however, that judges cannot easily judge what’s inside you. They can’t judge your determination, capability, instincts, commitment and focus.

If you believe in what you’re doing, keep going. Learn and adapt. You’ll soon get better and find your way.

Don’t let the bastards (including me) grind you down.

What do you think about startup contests?

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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