Business plan contest offers chance to grow, even if plan changes over time
RevolutionEHR, a Madison-based provider of electronic health records software for eye doctors, employs about 70 people, has grown to $5.5 million in annual revenue, and will continue to expand in Wisconsin even after a San Francisco investor bought a majority stake in the company.
Vector Surgical is an Oconomowoc producer of tools and kits to help surgeons more accurately define the margins of excised tissue. It sells three industry-leading operating room products in all 50 states and internationally.
BioSystem Development was acquired by Agilent Technologies about three years ago, a deal that gave the publicly traded California firm a foothold in Wisconsin while rewarding BioSystem’s early investors.
What do these three companies have in common? They’re all past finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, a multistage competition that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 12th annual contest is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at www.govsbiplancontest.com.
The contest will again offer more than $100,000 in cash and service prizes, courtesy of its sponsors, but many past contestants say the real “prize” is the plan-writing process itself. Here are reasons to enter:
- You can walk before you run. The contest’s first phase involves writing an essay of about 250 words (or 1,400 characters with spaces) spread among four criteria — product or service description; customer definition; market description, size, and sales strategy; and competition. There’s no need to submit financials right away.
- The four contest categories are deliberately broad — advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology, and life sciences. It’s rare that an entry cannot find a logical home.
- Entrepreneurs may enter multiple ideas, so long as each idea is separate and distinct. It is free to enter.
- All entries are accepted through www.govsbizplancontest.com. The second and third stages of the contest also take place through that website, culminating in a 15- to 20-page plan. Up to 12 finalists will present live at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in early June.
- Your chances of winning something are pretty good. If past contests are any indicator, roughly one in 14 entrants will reach the top 25.
- Contestants meet some interesting people. The 50 semi-finalists are invited to attend a half-day “boot camp,” where they’ll meet mentors, potential investors, successful entrepreneurs, and others with startup experience.
- The judges offer years of valuable experience. More than 70 judges drawn from the finance, sales, marketing, research, and technology sectors across Wisconsin — and beyond — will score the entries and provide feedback on submissions.
- Your idea will get some valuable exposure. Semi-finalists may post their executive summaries on the Wisconsin Angel Network website for secured review by accredited investors. Also, leaders in Wisconsin’s business press may see news value in your story.
- Finally, and most importantly, many past winners have been successful. About three-quarters of finalists over the history of the contest report they’re still in business and attracting investors, partners, and clients to their ideas.
In addition to RevolutionEHR, Vector Surgical, and BioSystem Development, “graduates” of past contests include WiRover, NitricGen, RoWheels, Eso-Technologies, My Health Direct, Platypus, Green 3, Elucent Medical, MobCraft Beer, Find My Spot, and scores of other finalists. Collectively, those finalists have raised about $160 million in grant awards and private investments over time.
Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,900 entries have been received and about $1.8 million in cash and services (such as legal, accounting, office space, and marketing) have been awarded. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is among the major prize sponsors.
What about those entrepreneurs who believe they don’t really need a business plan to get started? After all, they argue, building a “minimum viable product” may test the market as well as anything. True enough, but even experts who like lean startups find merit in writing a plan.
A recent New York Times story on the evolution of business plans noted that such documents help startups and even older businesses make their mistakes on paper rather than in real life. They help to set goals and serve as a platform for action, even if the plan changes before the ink is dry.
Most small businesses need a business plan to get a bank loan, and the U.S. Small Business Administration considers them critical. Private investors usually require business plans, too, because they want to know how ’treps arrive at their numbers and assumptions.
For a growing list of emerging companies in Wisconsin, it all started with an idea and a plan. Take your idea from cocktail napkin notes to reality. Resolve to start your new year by entering the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Click here to sign up for the free IB ezine — your twice-weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.