Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch congratulated finalists from the 2012 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest Wednesday night, noting that small businesses are vital drivers of the U.S. and Wisconsin economies. Read story here

“You are our future,” Kleefisch told an audience of more than 50 contest finalists and sponsors who gathered at the Executive Residence in Maple Bluff. The reception capped a contest season that began in January with 250 contestants and culminated June 6 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

Twenty-five finalists emerged from the contest, which also included winners from three collegiate contests in Wisconsin. The grand prize winner was RoWheels, a company that has re-engineered wheel mechanisms for wheelchairs.

The 45 sponsors of the contest included the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and . About $250,000 in cash and in-kind prizes were awarded this year. According to a survey of 136 finalists from 2004 through 2011, three-quarters remain in business today. Past finalists’ companies employ at least 400 people and have raised more than $52 million in angel and venture capital.