13 Dec Governor’s business-plan competition starts another round
Madison, Wis. — Having judged last year’s a success, the Wisconsin Technology Council said on Thursday it has opened the second annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest for state companies to submit plans.
Interested businesses will submit 250-word business proposals within one of four categories: advanced manufacturing, life sciences, information technology, and business services. The proposals will be accepted until January 31st. They will be judged on the nature of the products, customer definition and market strategies.
Judges will select semifinalists to move on to the next stages, requiring more in-depth presentations.
“The intent is to give entrepreneurs across Wisconsin a chance to submit their plans, with the hope that they can gain some experience and exposure,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
Bringing entrepreneurs to light
Tony Hozeny, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, said the contest was established to bolster Wisconsin’s reputation as an entrepreneurial power compared to other states. It was hoped that establishing a convention like this would give Wisconsin an upper hand in generating businesses and raise its state profile.
Still said that last year’s competition doubled the expectations they had previously had in both quantity and quality, with 330 entries. Narrowed down from 65 semifinalists to 27 finalists — often only by differences of a few points — the contest became a close one. The grand prize had to be split between two companies, Middleton-based BioSystem Development and Milwaukee-based NovaScan.
In Hozeny’s estimation the investment has paid off handsomely for the state, giving it the extra push it needed for Doyle to implement small-business programs such as the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Network and the grants provided by Act 255.
“It helped raise Wisconsin’s profile as a state serious about improving its entrepreneurial climate, [and] it also affords entrepreneurs the opportunity to test the value of their ideas in a competitive setting,” Hozeny said.
Winners got visibility as well as funding
Still said the judges look for products that, while they leverage technology, do not make inventions their full focus. Products that manage to fill a commercial need in a market are the best ones in the judges’ estimation.
Last year the plans of BioSystem Development, a Middleton-based analytical firm founded by biotechnology consultant Scott Fulton, caught the judges’ eyes. By developing a scientific instrument for running pharmaceutical calculations in fifteen minutes — where the current system normally takes a day — they were able to secure a tie for first place and receive $27,000 of the prize money.
Fulton said the company has essentially run through all the funding by this point, pouring it right back into trying to make more money through fundraising. A large portion was also directed into making a working prototype for demonstrations to investors.
More than the funding however, being a grand-prize winner has opened up doors for BioSystem. The firm has garnered interest from angel investors and venture capitalists and is in talks with the Department of Commerce to acquire further investments.
“It was the major event of the year for us in many ways,” Fulton said. “The funding was tremendous, but getting some recognition – it creates an instant visibility.”
Madison-based Sound Focus followed a similar track, using its $10,000 award to develop a working prototype of its speaker system, which can direct sound to specific locations. CEO Michael Underwood said that the timing worked out particularly well for Sound Focus since the requirements for the contest ran exactly parallel to what the company was doing in terms of creating a business plan.
He credited the company’s win its ability to bring together a marketing plan and intellectual property and was pleased at the “supplemental benefits” that were provided by the added exposure. “In retrospect, the process assisted our growth and accelerated our business development,” Underwood said.
The Technology Council is looking for sponsors and any volunteers willing to help out. Still said that all signs point to a repeat of last year’s success. While the process was brand new last year, it generated an unanticipated level of support, giving several start-ups and entrepreneurs the push they needed to move forward.
“A number of them are already out there starting businesses, making their plan a reality,” Still said. “That’s the real core reason for this.”
Les Chappell is a staff writer for WTN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.