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Governor's Business Plan Competition Can Help Shine a Light on Innovation in Tough Times

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What do these companies have in common? Pinterest, Groupon, Mailchimp, Uber, Slack, WhatsApp, Airbnb, Square, Instagram, Google and PayPal. (Hint: it’s more than technology.)

The first nine companies on the list were born during the Great Recession of the late 2000s and the last two during the DotCom bust nearly a decade earlier. If you look at previous recessions, you can add Microsoft, Apple, and even Burger King to the list.

The takeaway is that innovation and opportunity can arise from tough times, such as the economic turmoil produced by rising interest rates, inflation, and lingering supply chain issues in 2022. an outlet for some of this creativity to get noticed is the goal of the annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition.

Launched in 2004, the competition is back for 2023 and is open to start-ups and individuals whose ideas could be the next big thing. Maybe not as big as Google or Microsoft, of course, but capable of leaving a mark on the economic map of Wisconsin and beyond.

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The deadline to register online at www.govsbizplancontest.com is January 31 before midnight. Initially, the competition involves a clear abstract describing the problem that a technology-based idea or plan will solve, how it will lead to a successful business, and the type of competition that may stand in the way. Entry is free and limited to approximately 250 words at the start of the judged process.

Over time, approximately 4,450 entries have been recorded in 330 distinct Wisconsin communities. Approximately $2.5 million in cash prizes and services have been awarded since 2004, and approximately 475 finalists have raised at least $300 million in grants, angel capital and venture capital.

More importantly, these same finalists have a multi-year “survival rate” that is about double the national average for startups — 77%, according to separate surveys conducted by the Wisconsin Technology Council.

The secret to business longevity lies mostly in the skills, adaptability and sometimes stubbornness of the entrepreneurs in charge, but part of the credit goes to the resources that contest participants can tap into once they enter.

Independent judges from a mix of business and investment sectors can offer advice, volunteer mentors can do the same, and there’s exposure to a growing range of start-up services and programs around the world. Wisconsin. It can take a village to raise a startup.

“It’s primarily an opportunity to get mentorship for your business plan,” said Paige Peters, who led a team at Rapid Radicals, a Milwaukee water technology company that won the 2022 competition. “The exposure is also fantastic, not only for the (grand prize) winner, but for others who progress through the competition. For us, it was quite a race.

The contest has a wide enough scope to capture most shots. The four competition categories are advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences. Rapid Radicals, for example, competed in advanced manufacturing.

The competition takes place in phases, which allows candidates to build their business plan in stages between January and the beginning of June. Scoring at each stage reduces the overall number of participants moving on, but it’s useful to just get feedback on an idea. There are also chances to meet other entrepreneurs.

A Tech Council webinar featuring a seasoned judge and a 2022 finalist will take place on January 18. Individuals, teams of people or companies can participate if they meet certain conditions:

  • They are Wisconsin residents age 18 or older. If it is a school team, at least one member must be 18 years old.
  • They have a business plan that uses or leverages technology. Examples of technology include an e-commerce platform for a traditional business, a mobile application, a life science innovation, or an advanced manufacturing process or system.
  • They are based in Wisconsin or planning to set up a business in Wisconsin.
  • They did not receive private equity funding for an idea in its current form before the January 31 entry deadline. This only includes angel or venture capital funding. It does not include federal grants, bank loans, most accelerator program investments, or funding from friends or family.

Adversity can bring out the best in many people and businesses, as past economic downturns have demonstrated. Who knows? The 2023 version of the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition may provide new success stories born in difficult times.

Tom Still is the president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. Email: tstill@wisconsintechnologycouncil.com.

The four competition categories are advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences.

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