An exploration of the Business Plan Competition as a methodology for effective nascent entrepreneurial learning

Kayleigh Watson*, Pauric McGowan, James A. Cunningham

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
23 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose – Business Plan Competitions (BPCs) are readily prescribed and promoted as a valuable entrepreneurial learning activity on university campuses worldwide. There is an acceptance of their value despite the clear lack of empirical attention on the learning experience of nascent entrepreneurs during and post-participation in university-based BPCs. To address this deficit, the purpose of this paper is to explore how participation in a university-based BPC affords entrepreneurial learning outcomes, through the development of competencies, amongst nascent entrepreneurs. Design/methodology/approach – Underpinned by a constructivist paradigm, a longitudinal qualitative methodological approach was adopted. In-depth interviews with nascent entrepreneur participants of a UK university-based BPC were undertaken at the start and end of the competition but also six months after participation. This method enabled access to the participant's experiences of the competition and appreciation of the meanings they attached to this experience as a source of entrepreneurial learning. Data were analysed according to the wave of data collection and a thematic analytical approach was taken to identify patterns across participant accounts. Findings – At the start of the competition, participation was viewed as a valuable experiential learning opportunity in pursuit of the competencies needed, but not yet held, to progress implementation of the nascent venture. At the end of the competition, participants considered their participation experience had afforded the development of pitching, public speaking, networking and business plan production competencies and also self-confidence. Six months post-competition, participants still recognised that competencies had been developed; however, application of these were deemed as being confined to participation in other competitions rather than the routine day-to-day aspects of venture implementation. Developed competencies and learning remained useful given a prevailing view that further competition participation represented an important activity which would enable value to be leveraged in terms of finance, marketing and networking opportunities for new venture creation. Research limitations/implications – The findings challenge the common understanding that the BPC represents an effective methodology for highly authentic, relevant and broadly applicable entrepreneurial learning. Moreover the idea that the competencies needed for routine venture implementation and competencies developed through competition are synonymous is challenged. By extension the study suggests competition activities may not be as closely tied to the realities of new venture creation as commonly portrayed or understood and that the learning afforded is situated within a competition context. Competitions could therefore be preventing the opportunities for entrepreneurial learning that they purport they offer. Given the practical importance of competition participation as a resource acquisition activity for nascent entrepreneurs, further critical examination of the competition agenda is necessary as too is additional consideration about the design of such competitions and how such competitions should feature within university policy to support new venture creation. Originality/value – This study contributes to the limited literature and studies on BPCs by focussing on its effectiveness as a means of providing entrepreneurial learning for participants. The key contribution taking it from an individual nascent entrepreneur participant perspective is that the competencies afforded through competition participation are more limited in scope and application than traditionally promoted and largely orientated towards future BPC participation. Learning is mainly situated for competition sake only and about participants securing further resources and higher levels of visibility. As the nascent entrepreneurs intended learning outcomes from competition participation are subsequently not realised, the study highlights a gap between the intended and actual outcomes of competition participation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-146
JournalInternational Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Jan 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'An exploration of the Business Plan Competition as a methodology for effective nascent entrepreneurial learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this