By Tom Still
MADISON, Wis. – In its earlier years, the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest tended to have more entries from the Madison area and, as a result, more Dane County finalists.
It’s a testimony to progress of Wisconsin’s startup support system that the contest has steadily become more statewide in its geographic mix of entries, as well as those who advance to the final rounds.
As the Jan. 31, 2019, deadline approaches for entering the 16th annual contest, those trends are worth noting by those entrepreneurs across Wisconsin who think they can’t compete with the “gee-whiz” plans entered by ‘treps in Madison and Milwaukee.
In 2018, seven of 12 finalists in the contest hailed from outside Dane County. Eight of 12 finalists in 2016 were from outside the Madison area, and half of the 24 finalists in 2014 and 2015 were non-Dane County entries. In the early 2000’s, it wasn’t unusual to find Madison-area finalists in most of the top spots.
The improved out-state mix isn’t because Madison-area entries were weaker. It’s because entrepreneurs around the state came up with more competitive ideas.
Over time, more than 3,700 plans from more than 310 Wisconsin communities have been entered in the contest. Finalists have included companies such as RevolutionEHR, Vector Surgical, Nerites, Elucent Medical, Fishidy, Lynx Biosciences, Hyde, bluDiagnostics, Strategic Fishing Systems, Optametra, Platypus Technologies, Reza Band, RoWheels, MobCraft Beer, Sector67 and BadgerBites.
Known today as Eat Street, the founders of BadgerBites built what has become one of the nation’s largest online and mobile food ordering and delivery services.
Some lunar-sized craters were left by promising finalists, too, but that’s not unusual in the world of emerging companies. A more striking fact is that past BPC finalists have enjoyed a high survival rate, especially compared to the U.S. startup mortality rate overall. Collectively, past contestants have raised at least $200 million in angel and venture capital and venture debt – all while creating jobs and economic value in Wisconsin.
As the 16th version of the contest heads toward a Jan. 31 deadline at www.govsbizplancontest.com, it’s time for another edition of entrants to make their bids for success.
The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice and mentoring, management talent and possible sources of capital. Two workshops are scheduled for people who would like to learn more about entering:
- 6 p.m. Jan. 9 at the Coliseum Bar, 232 E. Olin Ave., Madison, where 2018 grand prize winner Mehrdad Arjmand of NovoMoto will talk about how his company won.
- 1:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the UW-Milwaukee Accelerator, 1225 Discovery Parkway, Wauwatosa. Loren Forsythe of Shockray Self-Defense will talk about his 2018 category winner.
Contest categories are Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences. For their initial entries, contestants will submit a 250-word (about 2,000 characters) idea abstract that will be reviewed by members of an 85-person judging panel.
Wisconsin residents 18 years old and older are eligible, as are teams from state-based businesses and organizations. Businesses or teams from outside the state are also eligible if they demonstrate intent to base their business in Wisconsin. Entrepreneurs may also enter multiple ideas; companies or individuals that have raised less than $25,000 in private equity for their plans in a current form may enter.
Twenty-five finalists will be selected in May and a dozen top contestants will present at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in June.
It’s free to enter and the contest is conducted in stages, which means people can walk before they run. A March 5 seminar for the semi-finalists will be held in Waukesha to provide help with taking a business plan to the next stage.
For a growing list of emerging companies in Wisconsin, it all started with an idea and a plan. Take your idea from cocktail-napkin notes to reality. Resolve to start your new year by entering the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.