By Tom Still

MADISON – At November’s life sciences venture conference in Madison, three companies among the 21 presenters from seven states had something in common: BioSystem Development of Middleton, NovaScan of Milwaukee and Nerites of Sun Prairie were the top three finishers in their category of the first Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. Just six months after competing in the contest, all three were vying with more established firms for investment dollars.

The example set by BioSystem Development, NovaScan and Nerites illustrates the emerging value of the contest, which was launched in late 2003 to help spur development of emerging, technology-based companies across Wisconsin. If the nearly 20 winners from 2004 continue to build on their hard work, the idea will take root.

After a debut that attracted more than 330 entries from 101 Wisconsin communities, the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest is underway for the 2005 competition year.
The contest is being produced by the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network, with support from a number of sponsors, partners and affiliates.
Contestants may enter one of four categories: life sciences, information technology, advanced manufacturing or business services. The common thread running through the contest is that all ideas must somehow leverage technology to build a business.

The mission of the statewide contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the creation, start-up and early-growth stages of high-growth businesses in Wisconsin. Participants have the chance to win seed capital and valuable services that will help them launch their businesses, as well as enhance the state’s economic development.

“The quality of competition in the 2004 contest supported my belief that Wisconsin has the ideas and the entrepreneurs necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. This contest will help ideas grow into companies and to create jobs,” Gov. Jim Doyle said.

Wisconsin residents 18 years old and older are eligible, as are teams from Wisconsin-based businesses and organizations. Last year, 234 individuals or teams – people ranging in age from college students to retirees — entered the contest.
Here’s how the 2005 process will work:

 In the “Business Concepts” phase, which runs until 5 p.m., Jan. 31, the contest will accept IDEA Abstracts only on the web site. IDEA abstracts are 250-word business concepts that will be graded on a scale of 1-10 (10 highest) by a panel of Judges will pay special attention to the innovative nature of the product or service, customer definition, market size and the competitive advantage within that market, and sales and marketing strategy. At least 50 IDEA Abstract presenters will be asked to write a Summary Business Plan.
 In the “Summary Business Plan” phase, which begins Feb. 16 and runs to 5 p.m. March 15, the top 50 or more IDEA Abstract presenters post their five-page summaries (1,250 words) online for comments by the judges. Contestants may be encouraged to revise their plans based on judges’ comments. At least 20 plan summaries are selected for the final round.
 In the “Final Business Plan” phase, which runs from April 1 to 5 p.m. May 1, 2005, the top 20 Summary Plan presenters prepare final plans for judging. Limited comments and mentoring continues. Judges will review the plans and pick up to three place winners in each category.
 The top four category winners will present their plans at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, and a grand prize winner will be announced there. Prize sponsors in 2004 were: The Wisconsin Department of Commerce; Mason Wells Private Equity; American Transmission Co.; Oracle; the law firm of Michael, Best & Friedrich; the construction firm of J. P. Cullen & Sons Inc.; API Software Inc.; the law firm of Axley Brynelson; Urbantec Catalyst LLC/Network 222; and the Wisconsin Technology Council.
Wisconsin’s reputation for helping entrepreneurs is growing. The recent formation of the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Network (a consortium of the UW Extension, state technical colleges, the state agriculture department and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation) is one example. The Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference and efforts to build more angel capital are other bright spots.
The Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest fits the strategy by introducing emerging companies to the “deal flow” pipeline.
At its core, the Governor’s Business Plan is a celebration of the greatest game on earth – business. To learn more, go to and find out how you can move that business plan off the shelf and into the marketplace.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.