Entrepreneurs from 81 communities across Wisconsin submitted 248 entries in the ninth annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, contest organizers announced Monday.

Those entries included 83 in the contest’s information technology category, 78 in business services, 47 in advanced manufacturing and 40 in life sciences. The total of 248 entries is up from 223 in 2011. Also, those 248 entries represent 241 individuals – the second highest total in the contest’s history.

Judging in the first round of the contest begins this weekend. More than 60 judges who have collective experience in launching companies, vetting technologies, investing in start-ups or providing services to emerging companies will take part. About 50 plans will move to the contest’s second round in late February.

“Wisconsin entrepreneurs have once again demonstrated they have strong ideas and a willingness to undertake the hard work of transforming those ideas into businesses,” said Mark Bugher, chairman of the Wisconsin Technology Council. The Tech Council produces the annual contest.

Since its inception in 2004, 2,287 entries have been received from 1,919 individuals in 258 different Wisconsin communities. More than $1 million in cash and in-kind prizes have been awarded. This year’s cash and in-kind prize total will approach $200,000.

As with past years, the contest will be conducted in phases culminating at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, June 5-6. A “boot camp” for contest semi-finalists will be held March 1 in Milwaukee.

A recent survey of 136 finalists since 2004 revealed that 102 (or 76.7 percent) are still in business – a high survival rate for start-up companies. However, a handful of those 102 companies have left Wisconsin.

Past finalists have raised about $52 million in angel, venture and grant financing, according to the survey and other records. Nearly six of 10 past finalists (57.9 percent) said they have raised money since taking part in the contest – but an almost identical number (58 percent) said they’re seeking funding this year.

Nearly three of four finalists (73.5 percent) said the contest led to an increase in public exposure for their companies.

More than seven in 10 respondents (70.6 percent) said they plan to expand staff in the coming year – and those who plan to expand would collectively create more than 200 jobs.

“An interesting trend for 2012 is more entrepreneurs submitting only one plan, which suggests they understand how competitive the contest has become. Contestants are choosing to better focus their efforts,” said Tom Still, president of the Tech Council.

Sponsors are contributing cash, office space, legal assistance, accounting, information technology consulting, marketing and advertising and more. A major sponsor is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

Sponsors of the 2012 contest so far are: 5Nines/Matador Consulting, Aberdean Consulting LLC, American Transmission Co., Baird Venture Partners, Compass Properties LLC, Cornerstone Office Corporation, Earth Information Technologies, Economic Growth Associates, Flaherty & Associates, Madison Gas & Electric, Michael Best & Friedrich, Park Towne Development Corp., Perkins Coie, Pieper Properties,  Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c., Smith & Gesteland LLP, Starkweather Associates , State of Wisconsin Investment Board, University Research Park, Urban Land Interests, UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations, VentureLab, the city of Waterloo, WisBusiness.com, Wisconsin Angel Network, Wisconsin Health and Educational Facilities Authority, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. and the Wisconsin Technical College System Foundation.

To become a sponsor, visit www.govsbizplancontest.com or contact Kari Fischer at 608-442-7557 ext. 27.