Business contests aren’t just vanity

Tom Welsh
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ERNST & Young has just opened nominations for its UK Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Previous category winners have included Hilary Devey of BBC’s Dragon’s Den (and more impressively, founder of Pall-Ex, the freight company), and the former boss of JD Sports Peter Cowgill.

Certainly, of the many competitions out there, Ernst & Young’s has one of the finest heritages. Now in its twenty seventh year, it covers 50 countries, distributes 500 awards, and involves 900 judges. But why enter? Isn’t it just self-congratulatory? Unless you win, some argue it’s just a waste of time.

Three specific benefits have been cited by previous entrants. First, your business gains recognition. Secondly, you get access to events. And third, you have a chance to network. Competitions are a good opportunity to raise your profile, perhaps meet potential investors, or just get to know fellow entrepreneurs. You may even find a future customer. Dana Elemara, founder of the organic food company Arganic, says one of the judges of Shell’s LiveWire contest approached her after the event with a view to setting up a future business relationship.

But the rigorous format of these competitions can be useful in itself. Matt Riley of Daisy Communications (an internet communications company) argues that entering is an chance to refine your business plan. “You have to look at your business from the outside. You take a step back and think thoroughly about your business and how you present it.”

This process could be a useful discipline. Many start-ups, especially the most embryonic, can be sophisticated ideas but most companies miss a few details along the way. Setting out a plan in front of respected judges forces you to fully explain the rationale for your company, how your model practically works, and to consider any weaknesses.

Full details on how to enter Ernst & Young’s UK Entrepreneur of the Year Competition can be found at

Tom Welsh is business features editor at City A.M.