William James Foundation Sustainable Business Plan Competition

The William James Foundation’s Sustainable Business Plan Competition offers a total of $150,000 worth of services & cash to the best new  for-profit plans with social and/or environmental goals. Entrants can be any age or anywhere in the world, but must be starting or growing for-profit companies that are either pre-revenue,or are within five years of their first revenues. All entrants who are accept  ed into the competition receive an average of 20 pages of feedback around. Deadline for 5-8 page summaries is Oct. 12.

Who should enter our Sustainable Business Plan Competition If you are developing or growing a for-profit business that has integrated a positive social and/or environmental goal into how their business makes money.

We have two main categories – you must qualify for one of them

  • Idea-Phase plans are for firms that are still being design, or are recently launched. Companies in this category can range from pre-revenue to up to two years from first revenue. The application fee for this category is $100.
  • Venture-Phase plans are for firms that are actively seeking professional investment right now. These firms can be in either the design phase (pre-revenue) or be up to five years from the point of first revenue. Many of our venture-phase entrants are entering a new market, working on a new product line, or otherwise significantly pivoting form their existing plans. A number of our reading judges are professional investors, and will be reading in this category. The application fee for this category is $250.
  • Click here to see the many ways to reduce or eliminate your application fee.

Specific Steps you should take to enter
Right Now
Please fill out our Intent to Compete form at as soon as you know you want to enter. This does not commit you to anything. But it helps us to recruit the most appropriate reading judges.

By October 12th, 2011 (5pm USA Eastern Time)
Email us an Adobe PDF version of your plan summary to We recommend submitting a week before the deadline, which gives us the chance to quickly review your plan and point out any of our requirements that might be missing. All plans can be re-submitted up until the deadline.

Your plan summary must

  • Include your company name in the filename.
  • Be contained in one file only.
  • Be written in English.
  • Include at least three years of estimated or actual revenues and expenses. We suggest that you use a standard income statement ( Cash flow statements are also accepted if more appropriate.
  • Be no more that eight pages long including the cover page and appendices. Longer is not better – five pages is ideal.

Your Cover Page must include:
* Email contact information for all business principals and postal and telephone contact information for a lead contact.
* A summary (up to 50 words) of your business that we can use to publically describe your plan.
* How you paid your processing fee, and any discounts to which you are entitled. You can pay your fee here.

The Most Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get my processing fee waived or reduced?
Click here to see the many ways to reduce or eliminate your application fee.

What will our plans be judged on?
We ask our reading judges to score and provide feedback on your plan’s strengths and weaknesses in the areas listed below. We understand that you may not have a great deal of detail on some of these areas yet, but you should have at least a one line addressing each of the areas listed below. We will post the exact scorecard used by the judges a few weeks in advance, but we deliberately do not do so earlier than that, because we are in the business of providing feedback on your existing business idea, not on your ability to fill out a form. Judges are asked to score a plan’s viability against your own success markers.

  • Description of Products or Services
  • Marketing
  • Risk Assessment
  • Timeline and Growth Plan
  • Finances
  • Management Team and Organizational Structure
  • Writing and Presentation
  • The Social and/or Environmental Impact of the business
  • Overall Assessment / Viability

Venture-Phase entrants should also answer the following questions:

  • How much money you are seeking?
  • What you would do with the money?
  • How would the investment make you more profitable?
  • How would your investors get their money back? (We’re not looking for specific term sheets here. Just the general details.)

What Counts as “Integrating a Positive Social and/or Environmental Goal”
If you are actively trying to make a positive social and/or environmental change through how you do business. Describing what counts is difficult. Look at some of the past companies we have accepted ( )  for a sense of the really broad range we allow. And feel free to email us in advance at and ask if you’re not sure. Sorry we can’t be more specific.

What kinds of plans will you not accept?

  • Plans whose sole contribution to social responsibility is to donate a percentage of revenues to charity.
  • Plans for consulting firms / websites / mobile applications /etc. whose sole contribution to social responsibility is to help individuals and companies become more sustainable.
  • Plans for firms whose sole contribution to social responsibility is that all of their clients are non-profits or socially responsible businesses.
  • Plans for hobbies. At least one person must make or plan to make a middle-class living from your business.

Other Frequently Ask Questions can be found here.


For more information visit or contact executive director Ian Fisk at ian.fisk at with any questions.


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