I found a cool article and have been doing some research on competitions. I found some ones this website. Most give a lot of money which can help jump start your career. Some give publications and get your name out there. Even runners up and other submissions get honorable mentions. Most are free so there is no risk at all. I'll list the ones I think are the best!
If you write poetry this is the best contest I could find. The Lulu Poetry contest. They pick weekly, monthly and yearly winners. Obviously if you win the yearly you win more money. Here's some info...
The website is... Lulu. You can win up to $5,000. There is continuous entries so it's always open. You can submit online.
If you write non-fiction this is the best competition. Drue Heinz Literature Prize. The deadline is May 1st so get it together ASAP if you want to submit. Their website is... Drue Heinz. You can win up to $15,000. You can only submit offline and the length is not specified.
For fiction pieces, many were due early this year. There is one competition that stood out that doesn't end for a while. It is called, Bellevue Literary Review. This is their website. Their submissions are open February 1 to July 1. It can be up to 1,000 words and submitted online. You can win $1,000 and publication.
There are multiple award competitions that you can enter. The best I've found is Glimmer Train's Fiction Open. Here is the website. There are several submissions throughout the year. The first is March 1-31. The second runs in July. The highest prize is $2,500. Submissions are between 2,000 and 20,000 words.
A special contest for indie authors is also here. It's called Inkubate, Literary Blockbuster Challenge. Here is the website. The deadline is March 31 so if you're interested hurry up and get submitting! There is no entry fee and you can submit online. The top prize is $5,000 but there multiple winners. No submission guidelines but it must be a full length novel.
So these are some great competitions and grants that can help start your career. Most don't have an entry fee so there is no risk involved at all. There are many more competitions out there so do some research. These are only ones that I have found and think are great. Start submitting!