A Madison social enterprise that provides clean electricity for off-grid rural communities in sub-Saharan Africa with solar-powered systems took home the grand prize in the 15th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

Mehrdad Arjmand, who holds a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics from the UW-Madison, presented for NovoMoto Tuesday during the “Diligent Dozen” track of the 2018 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Madison. NovoMoto was founded by Arjmand and Aaron Olson, an engineering mechanics doctoral candidate at UW-Madison.

“NovoMoto’s model is being implemented now in the western provinces of the Congo, where the opportunity for cheaper, reliable power will improve lives and provide a profitable business platform over time for the company as it expands,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

About 30 independent judges recruited by the Tech Council heard presentations from 11 other finalists in four categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences. NovoMoto won the contest’s Business Services category. Other category winners were:

Advanced Manufacturing: Shockray Self-Defense, Oak Creek is a combination of a pepper-spray pistol and electrical stun-gun weapon. Presenter: Lorne Forsythe, Oak Creek.

Information Technology: DataChat, Madison, builds chatbots that allow business users to extract insight from their data simply by talking to the chatbot. Presenter: Jignesh Patel, Madison.

Life Sciences: AmebaGone, Madison, is a developer of natural alternatives to antibiotics, securing crop yields for growers without chemicals and metals. Presenter: Amy Jancewicz, Madison.

Twelve contestants emerged from three rounds of judging in the contest organized through the Wisconsin Technology Council, which produces the contest in conjunction with its partners and sponsors. The contest began in late January with nearly 200 entries; more than 3,700 entries have been received since the contest began in 2004.

This year’s finalists delivered seven-minute pitches on their business ideas during the 16th annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference, which was held at Madison’s Union South. Second- and third-place category winners were:

Advanced Manufacturing: Pyran, Kevin Barnett, Madison; AquaMetals, Bruce Bathurst, Wauwatosa.

Business Services: Impact Sports, Joshua Cleveland, River Falls; Replace-A-Lace, Nancy Brekke-Jones, Rhinelander.

Information Technology: Swirl Insurance Services, Terry Wakefield, Mequon; Pyxsee, Dayne Rusch, Oshkosh.

Life Sciences: ReNeuroGen, Stephen Naylor, Elm Grove; Fast Forward Forensics, Randy Nagy, Madison.

New to the contest this year: Pyran won the “Bright New Idea” award as a first-time contestant.

Finalists submitted full business plans for review by a panel of more than 110 judges established by the Tech Council, which is the non-profit and non-partisan science and technology adviser to the governor and the Legislature. Each plan described the core product or service, defined the customer base, estimated the size of the market, identified competition, described the management team and provided key financial data.

Sponsors are contributing cash, office space, legal assistance, accounting, information technology consulting, marketing, prototyping, web design, event space and more. About $2.2 million in cash and in-kind prizes have been awarded since the inception of the contest in 2004. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is a major sponsor.

Additional lead sponsors of the 2018 contest include @1403; 3Rhino Media; American Family Insurance; American Transmission Co.; AT&T; COLLABORATORcreative; Eppstein Uhen Architects; Michael Best; Midwest Prototyping; Pieper Properties; Quarles & Brady; Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren; SCORE; StartingBlock Madison; The Creative Company; University Research Park; Ward4; Whitewater University Technology Park; and ZEBRADOG. Associate sponsors include 100state; Aberdean Consulting; Applied Management; Cresa Madison; Industrious Madison; Makin’ Hey!; Murphy Desmond; Reverbal Communications; Smith & Gesteland; and Spencer X Smith and AmpliPhi. Additional sponsors include BloodCenter of Wisconsin; DXC Technology; Idea Fund of La Crosse; The Ideas Network 90.7FM; Irontek; Madison Gas & Electric; Marshfield Clinic Health System; Neider & Boucher; State of Wisconsin Investment Board; UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations; Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation; and Wisconsin Technical College System.

To learn more about the contest, visit govsbizplancontest.com.