MADISON-From innovative ways to improve business processes to ideas for saving energy, water and lives, the sixth annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has attracted 326 entries from 287 individuals in 106 different cities, villages and towns, it was announced Thursday.

Entries received by Jan. 31 were spread over four contest categories aimed at capturing Wisconsin’s best technology-based ideas: Advanced manufacturing (102); business services (95), information technology (77) and life sciences (52). The previous high for entries (300) came in 2004, the contest’s first year.

The number and quality of entries in the sixth annual contest met the expectations of contest organizers at the Wisconsin Technology Council and sent an encouraging message about the state’s untapped entrepreneurial talent.

“The increase in the number of entries from 245 a year ago to 326 this year demonstrates that Wisconsin’s entrepreneurial climate continues to improve, even during tough economic times,” Tech Council Chairman Mark Bugher said.

The entries will be scored by 68 judges, including 10 private equity investors from the Midwest. 

More than $175,000 in cash and in-kind prizes have been pledged for the 2009 contest so far; first prize in the statewide contest will be worth $50,000 in cash and services. Winners will be announced at the 2009 Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee, June 9-10.

The mission of the contest is to encourage entrepreneurs in the creation, start-up and early-growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. Contestants may win seed capital and valuable services to help them launch their businesses, as well as enhance the state’s economic development. Highlights from the 2004-2008 contests include:

•      Since its inception, 1,536 entries have been received across the contest’s four categories.
•      About $850,000 in cash and services have been awarded to about 120 finalists over time.
•      98 percent of the finalists from 2004-2008 who responded to a fall 2008 survey by the Tech Council are still in business.
•      52 percent of the finalists who responded reported receiving financing from angel investors, venture capitalists, banks, federal grants and other sources.
•      75 percent of finalists reported the contest led to an increase in public exposure, including contacts from potential investors, for their company or idea.
•      38 percent of finalists said the contest led to new customers or business partners.

In 2009, 50 semi-finalists in the contest will automatically be offered the chance to post their executive summary plans on, a secure web site now available to more than 250 prospective investors in Wisconsin and beyond. The site is operated by the Wisconsin Angel Network, a project of the Tech Council.

Semi-finalists will also have an opportunity to attend a “Business Plan Boot Camp,” to be held in late February, and other networking or educational events – including the Entrepreneurs’ Conference.  Up to a dozen finalists will be invited to present to attendees at the conference.

Cities from which five or more contest entries were submitted include: Appleton, Colfax, Eau Claire, Green Bay, Greenfield, Madison, Middleton, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Racine, Kenosha-Pleasant Prairie, Rhinelander, Verona and Wauwatosa. A breakdown by area code revealed that 140 entries came from the 414 and 262 area codes (southeastern Wisconsin), 86 from the 608 area code (southwest); 43 from the 920 area code (northeast) and 40 from the 715 area code (northwest and northern).

A number of entries also came from out-of-state residents who indicated they would like to relocate to Wisconsin, which was a condition for entering the contest.

“Entrepreneurs live everywhere in Wisconsin, and they are building businesses where they live,” said Bugher, who is also director of University Research Park in Madison.  “Our goal at the Tech Council is to help them bring their ideas to the marketplace.”

Sponsors of the 2009 contest so far: Aberdean Consulting LLC; American Transmission Co.; Associated Bank; The Boldt Company; CG Schmidt Co.; EarthIT; Fitchburg Technology Campus; Foley & Lardner LLP; The Gialamas Company; Johnson Block CPAs; Journal Interactive, the digital media division of Journal Communications, Inc.; Loughrin Accounting & Tax Service; Marshfield Clinic Applied Sciences; Madison Gas & Electric Co.; McAllen TEC Campus; Michael Best & Friedrich LLP; Midwest Airlines; Murphy Desmond, S.C.; Quarles & Brady LLP; Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren s.c.; Ruedebusch Development & Construction; Smith & Gesteland LLP; State of Wisconsin Investment Board; TDS Telecom; University Research Park; Wisconsin Department of Commerce;; Wisconsin Angel Network; Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek S.C.; and the Wisconsin Technology Council.