• WisBusiness

Monday, January 14, 2013

Tom Still: Job growth starts at home: Create your own company by writing a business plan


By Tom Still
The latest federal government data shows Wisconsin's job growth is still lagging the U.S. average, with experts suggesting the reasons range from pre-recall election paralysis to reliance on manufacturing to shortages of skilled workers.

Here's another answer: Wisconsin needs more people who are willing and able to create their own jobs.

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 2013 Wisconsin Governor's Business Plan Contest offers a proven pathway for entrepreneurs to get started.

The deadline for entering the 10th annual contest is 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 31, through http://www.govsbizplancontest.com – the official website. The contest will once again offer more than $100,000 in cash and service prizes, 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-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.

Some "graduates" of past contests include RoWheels, LIVEyearbook, Xolve, Eso-Technologies, Vector Surgical, My Health Direct, Insulete, Platypus, Green 3 and about 130 other finalists. Collectively, those finalists have raised about $70 million from investors.

"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, who co-founded the company with Jan Moen. "The well-orchestrated 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.

Starting a company during slow-growth times 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, family 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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