One of the most common ways for universities to inspire innovation from its students these days is to host a business plan competition. According to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation - a private foundation for the advancement of entrepreneurship and education - over 50 universities dole out $10 million from these contests each year. Based on this data, the Kauffman Foundation has taken it upon itself to introduce iStart - a web-based platform for hosting and managing business plan competitions - just in time for "back to school" season.

Announced this morning in a press release from the foundation, iStart will both help universities and other organizations host competitions and serve as a resource center for young entrepreneurs seeking support, mentorship, services and investors.

"We will do something that hasn't been done before by making the thousands of plans that are part of these competitions available to the world as models for aspiring entrepreneurs and possible opportunities for mentors, investors and service providers," says the Kauffman Foundation's Katie Petersen.

For competition administrators, iStart allows them to launch and customize a competition, brand the experience to match their site's style and manage hundreds of applicants and judges with increased efficiency. Students can use the site to submit their plans, post resumes and find potential startups that need employees.

Rice University, which holds one of the largest business plan competitions in the nation with 400 applicants and 250 judges, was an early tester of the new platform and reported finding it useful and efficient. While iStart intends to take the pressure off universities and organizations hosting competitions, it also could be an excellent resource for both aspiring entrepreneurs and early stage startups looking for fresh talent.