Tom Still

– There may be as many ways to get a company up-and-running as there are

lean startup methodology works for some, especially if the goal is to produce a
“minimum viable product” that allows entrepreneurs to learn from potential
customers before they build something the market doesn’t really want.

others who operate in regulated environments, the pathway to a commercially
appealing product may be more methodical and require step-by-step validation.

‘treps prefer to go-it-alone, others prefer working in a team, and still others
think the only way to innovate is to find a cool co-working space with a
ping-pong table.

all starts with an idea, however, and a plan to take it from cocktail napkin
notes to reality.

what the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has done for hundreds of
entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 11th annual contest
is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at All
you need to get started is an idea – and the time it takes to write a
first-round entry.

contest will once again offer more than $100,000 in cash and service prizes,
but many past contestants say the real “prize” was the plan-writing process
itself.  Here are some reasons to enter:

don’t have to be Tolstoy. The first phase entry is about 250 words (or 1,400
characters with spaces) spread among four criteria, so there are no
stresses about writing “War and Peace.” At least, not right away.

free. There is no cost to enter, other than your time.

stamps? No worries. All entries are accepted through 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.

are made in one of four categories: Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services,
Information Technology or Life Sciences. Entrepreneurs may enter multiple
ideas, so long as each idea is separate and distinct.

chances of winning something are pretty good. If past contests are any
indicator, roughly one in 14 entrants will reach the top 25. That’s about the
same odds Las Vegas is giving for the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl.

meet some interesting people. The 50 semi-finalists may attend a half-day
“boot camp,” where they’ll meet potential investors, successful entrepreneurs
and others with startup experience.

idea will get some valuable exposure. Semi-finalists may post their executive
summaries on the Wisconsin Angel Network web site for secured review by
accredited investors. Also, leaders in Wisconsin’s business press may
see news value in your story.

and most important, many past winners have been successful. About
three-quarters of finalists from 2004 through 2012 report they’re still in
business and attracting investors, partners and clients to their ideas.

“graduates” of past contests include BioSystem Development, WiRover, NitricGen,
RoWheels, Eso-Technologies, Vector Surgical, My Health Direct, Platypus, Green
3 and scores of other finalists. Collectively, those finalists have raised at
least $70 million from investors over time.

than 2,600 entries have been received from 280 Wisconsin communities since
2004. Also, more than $1.7 million in cash and services (office space, legal,
accounting, information technology, marketing and more) have been awarded. The
Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is among the major prize sponsors.

about those entrepreneurs who believe they don’t really need a business plan to
get started? After all, they argue, building that “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.

process of creating a business plan—at least a credible one—demonstrates that
the entrepreneur is capable of thinking about his or her idea in business and
investment terms,” wrote Paul Jones, a veteran entrepreneur, investor and
lawyer who helps lead the emerging company practice at Michael, Best &
Friedrich. “(It demonstrates) the entrepreneur can conceive of his or her baby,
so to speak, as a tool rather than a child; as something that has to serve
crass commercial and financial masters, as well as a prerequisite to serving
any higher values.”

support your “baby” by entering the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Who knows? It may grow up into the company of your dreams.