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State competition helps entrepreneurs get started

The 11th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest is accepting entries online for the 2014 competition until 5 p.m. Jan. 31.

The contest is designed to encourage entrepreneurs in the seed, startup and early growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital. It also leads to valuable public and media exposure for the top business plans and helps spur economic growth in the state. Finalists will share in more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.

For their initial entries, contestants will submit a 250-word or 1,400-character idea abstract online at That’s where contestants will also find business plan templates and other information, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Toolkit. The toolkit provides business startup information and assistance, networking contacts and technical resources.

Contestants who advance to subsequent contest rounds will expand their plan in stages. More than 60 judges drawn from the finance, sales, marketing, research and technology sectors across Wisconsin will score the entries and provide feedback on submissions.

To get started, contestants need to create a simple account at All entries are submitted through the website, which has been redesigned to streamline contestant applications. Contestants use their account to gain access to mentors throughout the process, as well as review the judges’ comments and feedback.

Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,600 entries have been received and about $1.7 million in cash and services such as legal, accounting, office space and marketing have been awarded.

Contest categories are advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences.

Wisconsin residents 18 years old and older are eligible, as are teams from Wisconsin-based businesses and organizations. Businesses or teams from outside the state are also eligible to compete if they demonstrate intent to base their business in Wisconsin.

Entrepreneurs may also enter multiple ideas, though each idea must be separate and distinct.

Companies or individuals that have raised less than $25,000 in private equity for their plans in a current form are eligible to enter. Generally, private equity refers to angel and venture capital.

As with past contests, the 2014 competition will take place in stages:

In Phase 1, open until 5 p.m. Jan. 31, the contest will accept idea abstracts on the website. Entries should be roughly 250 words (or no more than 1,400 characters, including spaces) and will be graded on a scale of 1-10 by the pool of contest judges. The top 50 idea abstracts will advance to Phase 2.

In Phase 2, which runs Feb. 24 to 5 p.m. March 17, the top 50 idea abstracts will submit an executive summary. The top 20 executive summaries will advance to Phase 3.

In Phase 3, which runs April 7 to 5 p.m. April 28, the top 20 executive summaries will prepare full business plans. Judges will review the plans and pick three finalists from each category to advance to the final presentation round.

The top 12, or “Diligent Dozen,” square off June 3 with oral presentations during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.

Past finalists have launched companies that have attracted at least $70 million in grants, loans and private equity financing, and created jobs and economic value for Wisconsin. The contest’s major sponsors include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The 2013 grand prize winner was NitricGen Inc., which won the Life Sciences category with its patented shoe box-sized device that produces nitric oxide from room air to treat chronic foot ulcers, a serious complication of diabetes. The device electrically creates a flow of nitric oxide gas applied by the patient. Category winners in 2013 were V-Glass (advanced manufacturing), Balanz (business services) and Gristmill Studios (information technology).

To enter, become a judge or a sponsor, visit