Needle in a Haystack - M+A Matchmaking Automation Challenge

Propose a solution to identify the potential investors that will find the most value in an entrepreneur owner-managed business.

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed



Who: Bigelow

Since 1935, Bigelow has been helping entrepreneur owner-managers (EOMs) of highly successful, privately-held companies achieve their professional and personal goals by capturing the value of their business through a sale or merger. For those who have made the personal and professional sacrifice to build a business worth $50 million or more, it is vital to find the best fit investor who perceives the highest value for the business.  Finding that perfect buyer/investor can often feel like looking for a needle in a haystack! While making this match is Bigelow’s specialty, we are always striving to innovate new approaches for the benefit of our clients. 


What: M+A for EOM Businesses Over $50mm in Enterprise Value

Finding the ideal investor in an EOM business is a particular challenge because the private M+A market is highly inefficient and operates worldwide, with one or two potential investors often perceiving a great deal more value for the same company than all other buyers. Success is dependent on creating an optimal market that identifies buyers that find uniquely high value in the company being sold. 

Currently, Bigelow’s matchmaking process involves gaining a deep understanding of the business and utilizes a research “Kaizen” to collect relevant data about potential offerors to develop a pool of potential buyers and investors. While we have had great success with this model, the process is not exhaustive, and potential exists for new innovations.


Why: EOMs Give Back in Great Ways

We believe EOMs are the most powerful Pro-Economic and Pro-Social Force on the Planet – the world’s greatest drivers of progress and prosperity. Our clients go on to do incredible work with the wealth they created, starting philanthropic foundations and not-for-profits, investing in their local communities and businesses, and actively mentoring other EOMs, ensuring the continued effect/perpetuation of this powerful force.   


This Challenge: M+A Matchmaking Automation

Through this challenge, we are seeking your ideas about how to combine available data warehouses, historical data, algorithms, machine learning, and other novel approaches to create a replicable tool for identifying potential buyers that may find unique value in a given company.


What Can You Do Right Now?

  • Click ACCEPT CHALLENGE above to sign up for the challenge

  • Read the Challenge Guidelines to learn about the requirements and rules

  • Share this challenge on social media using the icons above. Show your friends, colleagues, family, or anyone you know who has a passion for discovery.
  • Start a conversation in our Forum to join the conversation, ask questions or connect with other innovators.



The M+A industry has long utilized a few standard processes to facilitate matching investors with businesses in the private M+A market. For large financial service firms, this may involve a brute force methodology, where success is thought to be maximized by providing information about a business to as many potential investors as possible. This intensive process may result in an investment, but doesn’t necessarily uncover investors that would perceive uniquely higher value in a company.

Smaller firms, like Bigelow, often deploy methods based on a combination of experience and third-party data sources to create a more targeted funnel of potential investors.

While we often say this process can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack, we’ve created a successful and repeatable process, that we call the “Kaizen,” to find, screen, and narrow down an initial group of potential investors. As the private M+A market is highly inefficient, this process is designed to find outlier investors that perceive a great deal more value for the same company than others.

Looking for outliers makes it impossible not to wonder if there might have been some other investor out there in the world that was missed. The M+A field is ripe for innovation that automates and streamlines the identifying and matching of investors with the ideal private company acquisition opportunities. Through this challenge, we are seeking ideas and concepts that will change or augment our process to ensure that we are identifying and communicating with the best investors possible for each of our unique client businesses.

Our Kaizen follows a funnel model that starts with researching thousands of potential investors and then down-selecting to 100-300 of those prospective investors that we believe will have a high likelihood of finding unique enterprise value in the specific EOM business (see the “Training” tab for a more detailed description of the Kaizen). This step is very important as the quality of the universe of selected potential investors will ultimately determine how successful the outcome is.

We have long relied on a bespoke process using our experience and research to select the 100-300 prospective investors for each of our clients and are seeking software based tools to help us automate and replicate the process.  In the "Training" tab we provide a number of videos to support competitors along with descriptions of the types of data we collect about our EOM clients, data that can be found about potential investors, our current processes, and historical data available that might be leveraged by software tools to help identify the best potential investors for each of our clients.


Participating in this challenge

We are seeking submissions that describe your ideas about how to combine available data warehouses, historical data, algorithms, machine learning, and other novel approaches to create a replicable tool for identifying potential buyers that may find uniquely higher value in a given company. Submissions do not need to include prototypes; however, entries must thoroughly address the Submission Form questions including your Data Flow Diagram, Data Sources, and Implementation Plan.  

How the Solutions will be used

Once the winning Solutions have been selected, Bigelow may seek collaborations with a technology development team to build and test a prototype using Bigelow’s proprietary data.  The technology development team will design the solution using the best compatible ideas contained in the winning Solutions.

Bigelow anticipates that some submitters will be invited to join this founding technology development team either full-time, part-time or in an advisory role, although this is not a requirement for submitting a proposal.

Bigelow expects to initially use the Solution in-house to support its efforts for its own clients. Ultimately, Bigelow expects that the solution may be able to be utilized more broadly in the M+A industry.

In addition to the stated cash prize pool, Bigelow intends to offer employment, contract work, and/or partnership opportunities to jointly create this new M+A tool.



Bigelow will award a total prize pool of up to $25,000.  This prize may be split by up to 5 winners. The minimum prize is expected to be $5,000.


Intellectual Property

All existing intellectual property rights, if any, in the idea, concept, or activities included in the Submission will remain with the Innovator.  Innovator understands, recognizes and accepts that Challenge Sponsor has access to, may create or has created materials and ideas which may be similar or identical to the Submission in concept, theme, idea, format or other respects.  It is expected that Bigelow will invite competitors in this challenge to join them in utilizing their proprietary data and process to create a new and potentially jointly owned proprietary tool.



Pre-registration begins May 1, 2018

Open to submissions May 31, 2018

Submission deadline July 31, 2018 @ 5pm EDT

Winners Announced October 2018


Judging Criteria

Viability - 20%

  • Viability and robustness of the solution’s functionality. Will the solution meet Bigelow’s, and broader M+A transaction needs?

Flexibility and Repeatability - 20%

  • Solution is able to be utilized across multiple industries and transaction types.

Innovation - 15%

  • The Solution demonstrates an innovative use and combination of existing or newly designed technologies, strategies and features

Quality / Robustness of Solution - 15%

  • Substantiated, well-reasoned, realistic, and justified assumptions, discussion, design, and conclusions.

Ease of Updating - 15%

  • Solution must be able to easily integrate new data sources.

Soundness of Implementation Plan  - 15%

  • Submitter proposes an implementation plan that is feasible, thorough, and well-designed. This could become a scope of work for future execution.


How do I win?

To be eligible for an award, your proposal must, at minimum:

  • Satisfy the Judging Scorecard requirements
  • Thoughtfully address the Submission Form questions
  • Be scored higher than your competitors!

A prototype is not expected; however, if in designing your concept, you create a prototype or have a similar case that can demonstrate what your concept can achieve, please submit.



Participation Eligibility:

The challenge is open to all adult individuals, private teams, public teams, and collegiate teams. Teams may originate from any country. Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of M+A is required. Prize organizers encourage outside individuals and non-expert teams to compete and propose new solutions.

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement.

Registration and Submissions:

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before July 31, 2018 @ 5pm EDT. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.

Intellectual Property Rights:

As detailed in the Challenge-Specific Agreement – Innovator will retain all intellectual property rights to their technology.

Selection of Winners:

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the Judging Criteria section above. In the case of a tie, the winner(s) will be selected based on the highest votes from the Judges.

Judging Panel:

The determination of the winners will be made by the sole determination of Bigelow LLC.

Additional Information

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification.
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified.
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement.
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition.
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law.

Challenge Updates

And the winners are…

Oct. 1, 2018, noon PDT by Liz Treadwell

We are thrilled to announce the winners in the Needle in a Haystack Challenge!  Our goal was to find innovators that would come up with a solution to automate the proactive search for optimal investor partners for our Entrepreneur Owner-Manager clients.


After a diligent review by our evaluation panel, our two award recipients are as follows:

●      Citizens Band’s submission “Machine Learning Comps - Maximizing EOM Valuations”

  • Overview of solution: increase number of buyers in the selection pool, down select using machine learning model, and continuously iterate to improve results.

●      Noam Team’s submission “Noam, your AI-based M&A advisor”

  • Overview of solution: We use machine learning combined with natural language processing to create an intelligent investor matching system with human advantages.


Each winner will receive $12,500 and will work with Bigelow as well as the other winner to further develop the investor matching solution.  We are confident these innovators will advance the state-of-the-art for increasing optimal choice and compress time for Entrepreneur Owner-Managers choosing a new investor.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of the innovators who entered the challenge. While only 2 winners are receiving the prizes above, there were so many other well-thought out proposals. Thank you all for helping make this challenge a success.

We would also like to thank all our supporters, judges, partners, commenters and anyone else who in any way contributed to our challenge community. Without you, we would not have had the successful challenge that we did.

8 Hours Remaining to Submit!

July 31, 2018, 6 a.m. PDT by Joeana Lutha Mae Villo

If you're still assembling your submission, you have exactly 8 hours left to complete it!

Here's a Tip: HeroX recommends innovators plan to submit with at least a 3-hour window of time before the true deadline. Last-minute technical problems and unforeseen roadblocks have been the cause of many headaches. Don't let that be you!

Two Day Warning

July 29, 2018, 2 p.m. PDT by Joeana Lutha Mae Villo
This is your official two-day reminder!

That's right, the Needle in a Haystack - M+A Matchmaking Automation Challenge will be closing this coming July 31st at 5:00 pm Eastern Time (New York/USA).

Please be sure to complete your submission form well before the exact cut-off time.

At exactly 5:00 pm ET, we can no longer accept new submissions!

Got questions?

Now is the time to speak up! Comment directly on this update with any questions about the submission process and we'll get back to you right away!

Five Days Left to Submit (TIPS)

July 26, 2018, 2 p.m. PDT by Joeana Lutha Mae Villo

We are quickly approaching the final days open for submission to the Needle in a Haystack - M+A Matchmaking Automation Challenge. The deadline is July 31st at 5:00 pm Eastern Time (New York/USA.)

Here are a couple of last-minute tips for a smooth entry process:

1. Begin your submission process several days before the cutoff time. This allows you to ensure everything you have been working on can be seamlessly integrated into the form.

2. Your submission will not be reviewed until you click the orange "Submit Entry" button at the top of the final review page. Please remember to do this!

3. Review the Challenge Guidelines to ensure your submission is complete. Pay particular attention to the judging criteria which will be the scorecard used to evaluate your entry.

4. Have any questions? Head over to the challenge forum and we would love to help you out.

Thanks so much, and good luck to all!

One Week Left to Submit

July 24, 2018, 2 p.m. PDT by Joeana Lutha Mae Villo

There's exactly one week left to submit your solution to the Needle in a Haystack - M+A Matchmaking Automation Challenge!

You're so close. You can do this!  

Remember, the final submission deadline is July 31st at 5:00 pm Eastern Time (New York/USA). No submissions received after this time will be accepted, so make sure to get yours in as soon as possible. Any last-minute questions or concerns can go right in the comments section of this update.


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