I’m pleased to be here tonight at this awards dinner.

The Wisconsin Entrepreneurs Conference is a valuable tool for our entrepreneurs to take part in and a valuable tool for our state as we grow our economy.

We are here tonight to finish a six-month competition in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest. But before we do that, let me say a word about the importance of entrepreneurs to our state’s economic growth strategy.

Their businesses may start off small, but their impact is great.

International research shows that variation in entrepreneurship explains one-third of the difference in growth rates between countries. Countries, regions, states, and even cities that have more entrepreneurship also have more economic growth.

In fact, some experts believe entrepreneurs create 70 percent of all jobs through the process of starting and growing businesses.

Whether they are in biotechnology, financial services, or manufacturing, entrepreneurs are powerful economic engines. An entrepreneurship strategy also makes sense because we have an opportunity to improve by building on our strengths.

Wisconsin has the best-trained and best-educated workforce in the world. We have great educational institutions including some of the largest research facilities. We have a history of innovation and a strong industrial manufacturing sector.

But Wisconsin ranks 47th in the number of business start-ups. We must build on our strengths and improve this ranking.

When I talked at this conference last year, I highlighted some of my specific initiatives within my “Grow Wisconsin” economic development plan to strengthen our entrepreneurial sector. In the past year, we’ve made a lot of progress.

ユ We opened the Bureau of Entrepreneurship to provide people trying to start companies a contact point within my Administration.

ユ I called for funds to strengthen angel investing and to help win federal grants to turn research into good, family-supporting jobs.

ユ Earlier this year, I signed Act 255. This landmark legislation will provide tax credits to angel investors and investors in seed and early stage venture capital funds. It will also create a series of centers around the state and help researchers win grants to turn their ideas into jobs.

ユ We adopted the most aggressive regulatory reform policy in the Midwest including a small business regulatory reform bill.

ユ Last year, we launched the Business Wizard, which helps small businesses determine which laws apply to them.

ユ Two weeks ago we launched the “Peerspectives” program, which helps entrepreneurs learn from each other.

Today, we keep another promise from my “Grow Wisconsin” plan – in fact, it’s something I called for in my campaign – a statewide business plan competition. Tonight, through the Wisconsin Technology Council, we celebrate the success of the first annual Governor’s Business Plan Contest.

Competitions like these are more than merely a game. The process of competing encourages people to learn how to design and write a business plan. This year, more than 230 people from more than 100 Wisconsin communities tried their hand at this fundamental skill.

Business plan contests also help entrepreneurs, advisors, and investors connect and form companies. A dense network has been formed in Wisconsin among the contestants, mentors and judges. These networks will serve our entrepreneurs well.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has run a similar competition for about 15 years. Their business plan competition has facilitated the birth of more
than 60 companies with a total value of nearly $11 billion. These companies have generated more than 1,800 jobs and attracted about $175 million of venture capital financing.

Perhaps most importantly, though, this business plan contest deepens Wisconsin’s connection to our rich history of innovation.

If Wisconsin is to prosper, we must celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit and allow innovation and intelligent risk-taking to flourish. The contest that finishes tonight and the progress we’re making through my “Grow Wisconsin” plan will help strengthen our entrepreneurial community.

I wish you the best as you start and develop your companies here in Wisconsin. I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to grow our economy – our future depends on your success.

Thank you.