Hospitality Business Plan Competition

Official Rules and Guidelines


Through the generous gifts of our donors, the Leland C. and Mary M. Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship at the Nolan School of Hotel Administration is pleased to offer an annual business plan competition – the Cornell Hospitality Business Plan Competition. The competition’s primary purpose is to provide an experiential and reflective learning opportunity to rising hospitality entrepreneurs. The competition begins at the start of the academic year with the formation of student teams and the development of a pitch video. As the academic year progresses, so does the competition. The field of teams is narrowed down to the top 10 semi-final teams in late Fall. The competition culminates in the early spring with the submission of final business plans and group presentations during the annual Hotel Ezra Cornell event. Our benefactors’ generous gifts and the funds accumulated from sponsorships within the industry allows the Pillsbury Institute to award the winning team a prize of $50,000, second place team a prize of $15,000, and third place team a prize of $10,000, with half of the proceeds being available upfront and the other half reserved as matching funds for winning teams that decide to pursue their vision from the classroom to reality. (*All prizes subject to tax withholdings as required by IRS regulations.) Additionally, the winning teams will receive direct access to the institute’s advisory board for the purposes of taking their business plans from concept to launch.  Included within this access is an invitation to each semi-annual advisory board meeting for the three years following the competition.

The term, “hospitality business”, for the purpose of this competition, is broadly construed and includes businesses providing support services to the hospitality industry (e.g., businesses such as Micros Systems that provide software and hardware to restaurant and lodging businesses). It is critical that teams clearly state the relationship between their business and the hospitality industry their pitch video. Students that are unsure about the relevance of their business concept to hospitality are highly recommended to consult with the Pillsbury Institute’s Executive Director, Robert Gregor, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to make sure the concept qualifies as hospitality. This must be done prior to submitting the pitch video.

Entering and Important 2023-24 Deadlines:

Team Eligibility Criteria:

  1. Teams consisting of no more than five full-time Cornell undergraduate and/or graduate students are eligible.
  2. Students must be in good academic standing (i.e., GPA not less than 2.0).
  3. Students may be members of only one team.
  4. All team members must be present for the final presentations, unless excused by the Executive Director on the basis of an emergency.
  5. Teams are encouraged to seek advice and counsel from successful entrepreneurs, professionals, and experts, but teams must present only their own work product.
  6. The Cornell University Honor Code applies to all aspects of the Competition.
  7. Non-students may be members of the venture’s management team and may participate in planning the venture. However, they may NOT be involved in the writing of the plan and should NOT represent a majority of the management team.

Requirements for Business Idea:

  1. The objective of the Business Plan Competition is to provide a meaningful learning experience and start-up opportunity for students interested in pursuing entrepreneurial opportunities at some point in their lives. Most ideas are for new, independent ventures in the seed, start-up, or early growth stages. Thus, buy-outs, expansions of existing companies, real estate syndications, tax shelters, franchises, licensing agreements for distribution in a different geographical area, and spin-outs from existing corporations are generally excluded. Licensing technologies from universities or research labs is allowed, assuming they have not been previously commercialized.
  2. Ideas must be drawn from the hospitality sector. For the purpose of this competition, “hospitality” is broadly construed and includes businesses providing support services to the hospitality industry (e.g., businesses such as Micros Systems that provide software and hardware to restaurant and lodging businesses). It is critical that teams clearly state the relationship between their business and the hospitality industry their pitch video. Students that are unsure about the relevance of their business concept to hospitality are highly recommended to consult with the Pillsbury Institute’s Executive Director, Robert Gregor, AS SOON AS POSSIBLE to make sure the concept qualifies as hospitality. This must be done prior to submitting the pitch video.
  3. Business ideas may be for both for-profit and non-profit ventures.

Other Requirements:

  1. Each member of the team must register and consent to the rules and requirements listed herein. If consent is not received from each member, then the team is prohibited from proceeding to the next stage of the competition. Consent is required prior to the pitch video submission and prior to [the semi-finals].
  2. All author(s) of the pitch video and the full business plan must agree that the submissions are their original work. The author(s) will retain all rights to the pitch and full business plan at all times prior to, and following, the competition.
  3. Once registered, team members may NOT withdraw from their team. Withdrawal of a team member will result in non-compliance with the competition rules and elimination from the competition. Team member withdrawals will only be permitted by the permission of the Executive Director and only after the withdrawing team member satisfactorily provides evidence of an emergency necessitating such withdrawal.
  4. By participating in the competition, each student grants the Pillsbury Institute and its agents and assigns the right to post the pitch video and/or the final business plan on a password protected website in order for reviewers, judges and administrators to access the items, post comments, and assign numerical scores to the submitted ideas.
  5. Finalists are required to sign a waiver allowing the Pillsbury Institute to electronically record their final presentation. All finalist author(s) will be asked to sign an audio/video release form allowing Cornell University to use the final presentation recording and materials internally for faculty, staff, students, and the Pillsbury Institute. In addition, final presentation recordings may be posted on any Cornell University owned or controlled, website for public consumption.
  6. Finalists are required to sign a money allocation agreement prior to the final presentation on Friday, April 19, 2024. In this agreement, finalists must indicate whether their company will be competing (prize money will go directly to the company) or if they will be competing as individuals. If competing as individuals, finalists must indicate how any prize money will be allocated amongst team members. This agreement is meant to 1) allow companies to be the official competitors in the competitions and; 2) prevent any possible disagreements regarding division of money amongst team members after the competition winners are announced.
  7. Non-confidentiality: Some aspects of the competition, including but not limited to oral presentations and question/answer sessions, are open to the public at large. Any and all of these sessions may be broadcast to interested persons through media, which may include radio, television, social media and the internet. Any data or information discussed or divulged in public sessions by entrants should be considered public information. Participants should not assume any right of confidentiality in any data or information discussed, divulged, or presented in these sessions.  We are unable to ask judges, reviewers, staff, or the audience to sign non-disclosure statements or otherwise maintain the confidentiality of any information presented. However, the Pillsbury Institute will take reasonable efforts to limit distribution of business plans presented at the competition, but we cannot guarantee that third parties will not obtain access to the business plan. The final presentation is open to the public and is electronically recorded. Attendance by media personnel is expected and final presentations will be posted on university-controlled websites for public consumption. Copyrights & Permissions: If a team uses copyrighted materials and/or images from a third-party in their presentation or business plan, they must obtain permission and authorization in advance from the owners to use this material.
  8. Fund Match: Payment of prizes will be allocated as follows: 50% of the prize amount will be payable to the members of the winning teams in accordance with their stated allocation preferences. The remaining 50% of the prizes will be available to the winning teams for the 36-month period immediately following the final awards. In order to access these funds, the winning team must submit receipts and paid invoices demonstrating that the prize award was used to create the business described in their business plan and final presentation. Thereafter, winning teams will be eligible to submit additional receipts and invoices establishing that the team spent additional funds to further the enterprise described in their business plan up to the limit of their prize amount. All reimbursements are subject to approval of the Pillsbury Institute leadership. Access to these matching funds shall expire three years from the competition date. The Pillsbury Institute reserves the right to modify or otherwise change the terms and conditions of the fund match described herein.
  9. Advisory Board Guidance: Winning teams have access to the Institute’s advisory board for the purposes of guiding their business plans from concept to creation and launch. Included with this access is an invitation to each semi-annual advisory board meeting for a period of three years from the competition date.

Pitch Video Guidelines:

Your pitch video link should be submitted to the BPC website hosted by Reviewr by Noon EST on November 14, 2023. You will be required to copy and paste the video recording link into Reviewr for the faculty chairs, executive director and judges to view. You may use either YouTube or Vimeo as the recording platform. The video should be named according to the following format: Pitch_TeamName.

Up to 10 teams will be selected to compete as semi-finalists and submit full business plans based on the quality of the pitch. Teams will be notified of whether they are invited to advance in the competition by November 20, 2023.

Guidelines: Pitch videos must be recorded in either YouTube or Vimeo and limited to a 5-minute presentation. You do not need to use all 5 minutes for the video. A successful pitch is brief and to the point, covering the five points below. All team members must be present in the video, however, it is up to the team who participates in delivering the pitch. You may choose to have all members contribute to the presentation, or you may choose to only have one or a few members present. Use your best judgement regarding the best way to present your pitch.

In your pitch, we expect you to include a description of the following:

  1. The market opportunity being pursued or the problem or issue that you propose to solve
  2. The features of your product, service or proposed solution
  3. The resources and capabilities required to implement your proposed solution or to develop your proposed product or service
  4. The benefits of your product, service or proposed solution
  5. Management team and advisors (if applicable), including their relevant experience and how or why their expertise/experience is valuable to the development of your product, service or proposed solution

Full Business Plan Guidelines:

Up to 10 teams will be invited to submit full business plans. Each invited team is required to submit their full business plan no later than February 6, 2024 by Noon EST to the BPC website hosted by Reviewr. The electronic copy should be named according to the following format: FBP_TeamName.pdf. You may be asked to print additional copies of the full plan. Any team that does not submit their full written business plan by this date will be disqualified.

Three to five teams will be selected to compete as finalists and compete in the final presentations based on the quality of the full business plan. Teams will be notified of whether they are invited to advance to the finals of the competition by February 21, 2024.

General Guidelines: Written business plans are limited to 15 pages of text (typed, single- spaced, minimum 12 point font, and 1” margins on all sides) including the executive summary and summary financial data. Detailed spreadsheets and appropriate appendices should follow the text portion of the plan but will be limited to 10 pages. Plans with fewer than 10 pages of appendices may not use the remaining pages to increase the size of their business plan beyond 15 pages.  In total, the maximum number of pages is 25.

Contents of the Written Business Plan: Your business plan should include (maximum 15 pages):

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Product or service description along with its benefits (including current status of development – beta, prototype, etc.)
  3. Customer/Market analysis (market size, market segmentation, and potential market share)
  4. Sales and Marketing Plan (how you will go-to-market)
  5. Stage of development of product, service and/or intellectual property (e.g., patents, licenses, etc. )
  6. Competitor and Risk Analysis (competitors, your competitive differentiation, how you will manage risk)
  7. Management team and/or advisors, including relevant experience
  8. Financial projections (cash flow, income statement, & balance sheet)
  9. Offering of the company (how much investment you are seeking, uses of funding, possible exits)

Business Plan Financial Data: Financial data should include a pro forma cash flow statement, income statement, and balance sheet. This data should be included in a summarized fashion in the main section of the business plan. Include an explanation of the offering to investors indicating how much money is required, how it will be used, and the proposed structure of the deal, (i.e., stock, debentures, etc.) and possible exit strategies. Detailed financial data and tables should be included in the appendix. The team is not required to reveal the exact desired terms of the deal (i.e., proposed company valuation and percentage of company being offered). However, teams should expect to be asked about these terms and should be prepared to answer these questions in some fashion (if this information is not already provided in the written plan.) It is up to the team to assess the BEST way to address this question.

Appendices: Should be included only when they support the findings, statements, and observations in the plan. You should NOT assume that judges will read all the material in the appendices. Therefore, the text portion of the plan (15 pages) must contain all pertinent information in a clear and concise manner. All appendices must fall within the 10-page limit; any pages over this limit will not be posted or otherwise provided to the judges.

Changes to Your Business Plan: Once your written business plan is submitted on February 6, 2024, it will be provided for review by the semi-finalist judges. If your team is selected to participate as a finalist, you can update your business plan (including financial projections) and submit an updated business plan for review by the Finalist judges. The updated business plan is subject to the same page limitations as the original plan and must be submitted to the Pillsbury Institute program manager, Michelle (Ciaschi) Mahool at by Noon EST on April 16, 2024 and will be provided to the judges for the Final Presentations.

Oral Presentation Guidelines:

Between three and five teams will be invited to participate in the final presentations, which will be held the Friday during Hotel Ezra Cornell (HEC) April 19, 2024. The final presentations will be delivered in front of a live audience to a panel of judges comprised of venture capital and private equity professionals and entrepreneurs. Teams have 10 minutes to present their idea to the judges and audience, followed by a 10-minute question and answer session from the panel of judges. Teams can assume that the judges have read their full business plans. Once a team has finished its presentation, it may observe both the presentation and Q&A session of the remaining teams. Teams may NOT observe other presentations prior to delivering their own presentations. The order of presentations will be determined randomly.

Detailed scheduling for the final presentations will be provided to the teams later in the competition. However, teams should submit electronic copies of any materials they intend to use in their final presentation (such as a PowerPoint file) to the Pillsbury Institute Program Manager, Michelle (Ciaschi) Mahool at by 5pm on April 17, 2024.  The file will be loaded onto a flash drive and auditorium computer for use during the final presentations.

Teams may demonstrate a prototype of their product during the final presentation (including a food sample if that is the product), but they may NOT provide other materials, such as handouts, the judges. Teams are NOT REQUIRED to use materials in the Final Presentation.

The winner of the competition will be announced during HEC. Results will be posted on social media outlets, university television monitors, email and newsletter distributions to the school community, including alumni and industry partners.

Judges and Judging Criteria:

Judges for the first two rounds of the competition will be drawn from Cornell University alumni, faculty and investment professionals. The panel of judges for the final presentation round will be comprised of venture capital and private equity investors and entrepreneurs.

Judges will score the teams’ deliverables using their judgment with respect to specific competition criteria, as summarized below. The teams receiving the highest collective scores on the pitch video advance to the semi-final round and the teams receiving the highest collective scores on the full business plan will advance to the final round. The winner of the competition will be determined by the final presentation judges’ ranking of the teams.

These rankings will be based on the judges’ assessment of both the full business plan and the final presentation. The competition is intended to simulate the real-world process of entrepreneurs soliciting start-up funds from early-stage investors and venture capitalists. Thus, the winning team will be the one whose plan and presentation conveys the most promising combination of significant value creation, attractive returns, and execution feasibility.

Competition criteria that the judges will consider in their assessments include but are not limited to:

  1. Clarity, completeness, and persuasiveness of the written business plan and/or oral presentation
  2. The market opportunity presented by the proposed venture (is there a clear market need presented as well as a way to take advantage of that need)
  3. The feasibility, uniqueness and quality of the business plan concept (is the product, technology or service feasible and does it provide something novel that gives it a competitive advantage in the market)
  4. The feasibility and quality of the business model, including the financial projections provided
  5. The financial and/or social return of the proposed venture (the business represents a real investment opportunity in which they would invest in)
  6. The capacity and strength of the management team (experience and expertise)
  7. In the final presentation round, the quality of the team members’ responses to questions from the judges

The decisions of the judges in each round of the competition are final. If no submissions are deemed worthy, no financial awards will be made.

Advisor Guidelines:

Advisors are available to teams through the Pillsbury Institute’s Entrepreneur in Residence program and our list of expert professionals. Teams must provide all advisors with the competition’s advisor guidelines (i.e., the “Do’s and Don’ts”).

 Do’s: Activities that are Encouraged

  1. Do respond to questions and concerns from teams.
  2. Do read and give constructive feedback on each aspect of the pitch video and full business plan.
  3. Do suggest other resources or individuals with whom teams can consult.
  4. Do identify weaknesses in the business idea that may concern investors and suggest ways of dealing with these concerns.
  5. Do listen to and provide critical feedback on teams’ final presentations.
  6. Do keep the pitch video and full business plan confidential except if asked to distribute it by the team.

 Don’ts: Activities that are Discouraged

  1. Don’t write or re-write any part of the pitch video content or the full business plan yourself. These documents should be the work product of team members only.
  2. Don’t substantially steer the development of the business idea or take leadership of the team.
  3. Don’t, if advising more than one team, discuss information about or your advisory activities for one team with the other team.
  4. Don’t discuss the team’s work with individuals involved in judging the competition.
  5. Don’t distribute the pitch video or full business plan to others without permission of the team or use the information or ideas in it for purposes other than acting as an advisor in the competition.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

 We extend our sincere thanks to our generous sponsors, whose support makes the Hospitality Business Plan Competition possible.

Sandy Solmon, P ’15, Sweet Street Desserts

Robert Alter

Stanley Sun ’00

Edward Hurowitz ’19

Elizabeth Shingleton Glomsrud ’00 & Barbara Foote Shingleton ’75