12 Jun Business Plan Contest Has Good Model
MILWAUKEE, WI. – As refreshing as Gov. Jim Doyle’s announcement of the statewide Governor’s Business Plan Contest must have been to some entrepreneurial ears last week, Wisconsin already has a long-running model to the north from which to learn.
The Eau Claire Area Economic Development council is now in its seventeenth year of boosting the entrepreneurial spirit of the Chippewa Valley through its Creating Your Own Business Contest. Begun in 1986, the program has administered more than $216,000 in zero- and low-interest loans and more than $80,000 in cash awards and educational grants to contest winners. Of the 52 businesses that have received awards through 2002, 39 are still in business and 33 of them are still operating in the Chippewa Valley. Those businesses have created in the neighborhood of 350 new jobs for the valley, paying an average annual wage of about $30,000, which is above the area average, said Nate Warren, economic development specialist at the ECAEDC.
“It’s one of the most successful programs we run out of the EDC office,” said Warren.
One company that’s glad for the EDC’s help is 1999 winner Barcode Technology Solutions (formerly Peregrine Systems), an Eau Claire-based software developer. The company was awarded $10,000 cash and thousands of dollars in in-kind donations from area businesses for its Convert-n-Track product, a work order management system for the pulp and paper industry.
Owner Bob Schraufnagel, who founded the company with his wife, Tammy, in 1996, said the company was able to use the award to attend trade shows and market Convert-n-Track, for which it had just completed a prototype. The company also used the cash to update its computers, allowing it to do more product testing, among other badly needed tasks.
“You can really do a lot with $10,000 for a small company,” said Schraufnagel, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a B.S. in computer science. “A lot of the office furniture we use today was free donations from some of the other contributors.”
The company’s main markets are the pulp and paper and food processing industries. The latter has carried the company through a painful downturn in the paper industry, which Schraufnagel observed tends to be more reactive to general economic trends than other industries. On the flip side, the company’s InfoPro WMS product, a wireless-to-wireless solution for food manufacturing and warehousing installations, has proven a winner in the less-volatile food industry.
“Things have been going pretty good,” Schraufnagel said. “The food industry is still doing pretty good. They’re still spending money on technology.”
Gov. Doyle is hoping that many other industries start spending money on Wisconsin-based technology, too. Speaking at the inaugural Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference June 4 in Milwaukee, Doyle noted that the Governor’s Business Plan Contest is all about attracting venture capitalists to good ideas in need of start-up cash.
The contest, which is set to run from December to June 2004, will be run by local chapters of the Wisconsin Innovation Network (WIN) Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to help new and growing technology-based businesses in the state and is managed by the Wisconsin Technology Council, the nonprofit group set up to advise the governor on technology-related issues. The winner of the contest will receive a cash award, which is yet to be determined.
“We’ll see how things go with the state budget,” Doyle joked at the conference.
On a more serious note, Doyle said one of his priorities is to “stoke the coals in our economic fire.”
“We need to match researchers with business energy, ideas with capital, and plans with action,” Doyle told entrepreneurs at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee. “During my campaign, I called for a business plan competition to help develop business plans, to raise the visibility of entrepreneurs and to link them with venture capital.
“The objective is to help entrepreneurs build businesses faster with less risk.”
For more information on the Governor’s Business Plan Contest, contact the Wisconsin Technology Council at 608-442-7557, www.wistech.com.
Lincoln Brunner is a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Wisconsin Technology Network. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.