By Tom Still

When David Westlake entered the Governor’s Business Plan Contest a year ago, Print Command had one employee – him. Today, it has 16, and the Delafield resident credits part of the cybersecurity company’s growth to his successful journey through the contest.


“You find out six months later how much you’ve really learned about your business
plan – and yourself,” said Westlake, a U.S. Military Academy graduate and former combat engineer whose company helps protect printers and similar devices from hackers.


Read this commentary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.


Westlake, one of 25 finalists in the 2012 contest, took part in a panel discussion Thursday in Wauwatosa designed to help prospective entrants learn the ropes. The Wisconsin Innovation Network meeting also featured tips from two veteran contest judges from the Milwaukee area and a 2011 finalist, Jeff Smith of RapidForce, a Nashotah company that produces muscle support and kinetic performance systems.  


Their collective message: If you want to grow your business from idea to reality, you need a plan. Even if you refine it many times along the way.


Entering its 10th contest year, the Governor’s Business Plan Contest has provided that kind of head start for hundreds of companies. The entry deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, through – the official website. The contest will once again offer more than $100,000 in cash and service prizes, but like Westlake and Smith, many past contestants say the real “prize” was the plan-writing process itself. Here are some reasons to enter:


·        You don’t have to be Tolstoy. The first phase entry is no more than 250 words, so there are no stresses about writing “War and Peace.” At least, not right away.

·        It’s free. There is no cost to enter, other than your time.

·        No stamps? No worries. All entries are accepted through The second and third stages of the contest also take place through that Internet portal, culminating in a 20-page-maximum plan. Up to 12 finalists will present live at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in early June.

·        Entries 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.

·        Your chances of winning something are pretty good. If past contests are any indicator, roughly one in 14 entrants will reach the finalist round. That’s better odds than a Super Bowl bet.

·        Contestants 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.

·       Your 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.

·        Finally, 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.

“Moving through all four rounds of the 2012 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, we built a winning business plan and started (Rowheels),” said Rimas Buinevicius, whose Madison-based company, Rowheels, won the 2012 contest. “The BPC process kept us on track to conduct research, uncover obstacles and gain confidence moving forward through our engineering prototype design and financial modeling phases. Today, Rowheels is creating jobs, is certified as a Qualified New Business Venture under Wisconsin’s Act 255 Early Stage Business Investment Program and is raising working capital for manufacturing.”


According to a 2012 survey of past finalists, more than half have received financing for their plan through a variety of sources – including angel and venture capital. About three-quarters of those who responded reported the contest led to an increase in public exposure for the company.


Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,300 entries have been received from more than 240 Wisconsin communities. Also, more than $1.5 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.


If you have a start-up idea, give the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest a try. Who knows? The next job you have might be one you create yourself.