By, Melissa Conradi for Governing, The Magazine of States and Localities, March 2004

With an economy profile that leans to heavy manufacturing and agriculture, Wisconsin has never ranked near the top in venture capital or small-business start-ups.  But a new plan aims to change that.

Working with the Wisconsin Tech Council, a nonprofit group that offers advice on science and technology issues, Wisconsin is holding its first-ever business plan contest, modeled after those used by corporations and business schools.

Introduced last summer at an entrepreneur’s conference, the Wisconsin version asked state residents to submit short abstracts of their business ideas to the contest Web site. Judges are now picking the best 50 of the 300 entries and will ask those entrepreneurs to flesh out their ideas with a comprehensive business plan.  At the next entrepreneur’s conference in June, one winner from each of four science- and technology-related categories will be selected to present their plans, and a grand prizewinner will be chosen.

The entries will receive comments from the panel of business leaders who judge the plans, and some will receive mentoring. One point the contest sponsors hope to make, says Tony Hozeny, a spokesperson for the Department of Commerce, is that “the most important thing an entrepreneur has to have when looking for money is a business plan.”

The state hopes that the prize money – the purse stands at $100,000 so far – will be enough to help winners start businesses.