By Tom Still
MADISON – RevolutionEHR, a Madison-based provider of electronic health records software for eye doctors, employs about 70 people, has grown to $5.5 million in annual revenue and will continue to expand in Wisconsin even after a San Francisco investor bought a majority stake in the company.
Vector Surgical is an Oconomowoc producer of tools and kits to help surgeons more accurately define the margins of excised tissue. It sells three industry-leading operating room products in all 50 states and internationally.
BioSystem Development was acquired by Agilent Technologies about three years ago, a deal that gave the publically traded California firm a foothold in Wisconsin while rewarding BioSystem’s early investors.
What do these three companies have in common? They’re all past finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, a multi-stage competition that has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 12th annual contest is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at www.govsbizplancontest.com.
The contest will again offer more than $100,000 in cash and service prizes, courtesy of its sponsors, but many past contestants say the real “prize” is the plan-writing process itself. Here are reasons to enter:
– You can walk before you run. The first phase entry is about 250 words (or 1,400 characters with spaces) spread among four criteria – product or service description; customer definition; market description, size and sales strategy; and competition. There’s no need to submit financials right away.
– The four contest categories are deliberately broad – advanced manufacturing, business services, information technology and life sciences. It’s rare that an entry cannot find a logical home.
– Entrepreneurs may enter multiple ideas, so long as each idea is separate and distinct. It is free to enter.
– All entries are accepted through www.govsbizplancontest.com. The second and third stages of the contest also take place through that website, culminating in a 15- to 20-page plan. Up to 12 finalists will present live at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in early June.
– Your chances of winning something are pretty good. If past contests are any indicator, roughly one in 14 entrants will reach the top 25.
– Contestants meet some interesting people. The 50 semi-finalists are invited to attend a half-day “boot camp,” where they’ll meet mentors, potential investors, successful entrepreneurs and others with startup experience.
– The judges offer years of valuable experience. More than 70 judges drawn from the finance, sales, marketing, research and technology sectors across Wisconsin – and beyond – will score the entries and provide feedback on submissions.
– 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 over the history of the contest report they’re still in business and attracting investors, partners and clients to their ideas.
In addition to RevolutionEHR, Vector Surgical and BioSystem Development, “graduates” of past contests include WiRover, NitricGen, RoWheels, Eso-Technologies, My Health Direct, Platypus, Green 3, Elucent Medical, MobCraft Beer, Find My Spot and scores of other finalists. Collectively, those finalists have raised about $160 million in grant awards and private investments over time.
Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,900 entries have been received and about $1.8 million in cash and services (such as legal, accounting, office space and marketing) have been awarded. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is among the major prize sponsors.
What about those entrepreneurs who believe they don’t really need a business plan to get started? After all, they argue, building a “Minimum Viable Product” may test the market as well as anything. True enough, but even experts who like lean startups find merit in writing a plan.
A recent New York Times story on the evolution of business plans noted that such documents help startups and even older businesses make their mistakes on paper rather than real life. They help to set goals and serve as a platform for action, even if the plan changes even before the ink is dry.
Most small businesses need a business plan to get a bank loan, and the U.S. Small Business Administration considers them critical. Private investors usually require business plans, too, because they want to know how ‘treps arrive at their numbers and assumptions.
For a growing list of emerging companies in Wisconsin, it all started with an idea and a plan. Take your idea from cocktail napkin notes to reality. Resolve to start your new year by entering the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest.
The 12th annual Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest is accepting entries online for the 2015 competition until 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015.
The contest is designed to encourage entrepreneurs in the seed, startup and early growth stages of high-tech businesses in Wisconsin. The contest links up-and-coming entrepreneurs with a statewide network of community resources, expert advice, high-quality education, management talent and possible sources of capital. It also leads to valuable public and media exposure for the top business plans and helps spur economic growth in the state. Finalists will share in more than $100,000 in cash and in-kind prizes.
For their initial entries, contestants will submit a 250-word (or 1,400-character) idea abstract online at www.govsbizplancontest.com. That’s where contestants will also find business plan templates and other information, such as the Entrepreneurs’ Toolkit. The toolkit provides business startup information and assistance, networking contacts and technical resources.
Contestants who advance to subsequent contest rounds will expand their plan in stages. More than 70 judges drawn from the finance, sales, marketing, research and technology sectors across Wisconsin will score the entries and provide feedback on submissions.
To get started, contestants will need to create a simple account at www.govsbizplancontest.com. All entries are submitted through the website. Contestants use their account to gain access to mentors throughout the process, as well as review the judges’ comments and feedback.
Since its inception in 2004, more than 2,900 entries have been received and about $1.8 million in cash and services (such as legal, accounting, office space and marketing) have been awarded. Contest categories are Advanced Manufacturing, Business Services, Information Technology and Life Sciences.
Wisconsin residents 18 years old and older are eligible, as are teams from Wisconsin-based businesses and organizations. Businesses or teams from outside the state are also eligible to compete if they demonstrate intent to base their business in Wisconsin. Entrepreneurs may also enter multiple ideas, though each idea must be separate and distinct.
Companies or individuals that have raised less than $25,000 in private equity for their plans in a current form are eligible to enter. Generally speaking, private equity refers to angel and venture capital.
As with past contests, the 2015 competition will take place in stages:
- In Phase 1, which is open until 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, the contest will accept idea abstracts on the website. Entries should be roughly 250 words (or no more than 1,400 characters, including spaces) and will be graded by the pool of BPC judges. The top 50 idea abstracts will advance to Phase 2.
- In Phase 2, which runs from Feb. 23 to 5 p.m. March 16, 2015, the top 50 idea abstracts will submit an executive summary. The top 20 executive summaries will advance to Phase 3.
- In Phase 3, which runs from April 6 to 5 p.m. April 27, 2015, the top 20 executive summaries will prepare full business plans. Judges will review the plans and pick three finalists from each of the four categories to advance to the final presentation round.
- The top 12, or “Diligent Dozen,” will square off with oral presentations during the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference on June 2 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Past finalists have launched companies that have raised $160 million in angel, venture, grants and venture debt over time – all while creating jobs and economic value for Wisconsin. The contest’s major sponsors include the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.
The 2014 grand prize winner was Elucent Medical, a Madison-based firm that is commercializing a wireless marker tag and detections system that helps show surgeons tumor margins during surgical excision. The device eliminates current pre-surgical hook-wire localization procedures that are invasive, costly and highly inefficient. Category winners in 2014 were MobCraft Beer (Advanced Manufacturing), Find My Spot (Business Services), Organic Research Corp. (Information Technology), and Elucent Medical (Life Sciences).
To enter, become a judge or a sponsor, visit www.govsbizplancontest.com.