• WisBusiness

Thursday, January 6, 2011

In a 'jobless recovery,' create your own company by writing a business plan


By Tom Still
Economists agree the recovery from the Great Recession is under way, but the unemployment rate in Wisconsin and most other states remains stubbornly high. You can wait for the phone to ring with a job offer – or you can take matters into your own hands by starting a business and hiring yourself.

It’s called entrepreneurism, which is a fancy word for the process of launching a small business that may someday grow into a much larger one. The 2011 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest offers a proven pathway for entrepreneurs to get started.

The deadline for entering the eighth annual BPC is 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31, through http://www.govsbizplancontest.com – the official website. The contest’s grand prize is worth $50,000 in cash and services, but 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 http://www.govsbizplancontest.com. The second and third stages of the contest also take place through that Internet portal, culminating in a 20-page plan. Up to 12 finalists will present live at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee in 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 start-up 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. Most finalists from 2004 through 2010 report they’re still in business and attracting investors, partners and clients to their ideas.

Some recent success stories include Xolve, a nanotechnology company in Platteville that raised $2 million from investors in Wisconsin and well beyond. Xolve won the 2008 BPC and was among the finalists in this year’s National Cleantech Open. Eso-Technologies, a medical device company that won the 2009 contest, raised $1 million from investors in short order and has since moved its product toward clinical trials. Vector Surgical, an Oconomowoc medical products company that won the 2007 contest, is selling its operating room tools globally to hospitals and surgeons.

According to a fall 2009 survey of past finalists, more than half of those who responded 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 1,800 entries have been received and more than $1 million in cash and in-kind prizes has been awarded.

Starting a company during a recession can be like vacationing during off season. You’re competing with a smaller crowd and the prices can be better. Then again, starting a company is never a day at the beach: It is hard work that begins with a great idea and a business scheme to match. And if you start a company, your next boss will be the toughest you’ve ever known. That’s because you will be investing your own money and, with luck, support from friends, families and other founders.

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.

-- Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, which produces the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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