Statewide entrepreneurship competitions on the rise

A small but increasing number of states are hosting statewide entrepreneurship competitions, creating new opportunities for start-ups, and generating plenty of excitement and local media attention.

For example, MassChallenge celebrates the official launch of its ambitious 2010 competition tomorrow, April 14, with Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino among the dignitaries lighting the torch, so to speak. This competition bills itself as the “largest ever global startup competition to accelerate the launch and success of high-growth, high-impact new businesses,” and has been working toward a fundraising goal of $1 million to distribute as grants to winning competitors.

And this is just the first year of MassChallenge. If it turns out to be as successful as its organizers expect, you can bet the event will grow larger in the future. And if statewide entrepreneurship competitions in Massachusetts and the small handful of other states that currently host them are successful in spurring new businesses and jobs, you can also bet that New York, California, Texas, Oregon, and the three dozen or so other states that lack them will start thinking about it.

The other statewide business plan competitions we’ve found are geared to students. There are also many non-collegiate entrepreneurship competitions taking place at the local or regional levels offering considerable prize money and valuable resources for entrepreneurs. But you have to believe that state sponsorship raises the stakes to a new level, and will increasingly be seen as an important economic development tool in addition to all the other incentives, financing programs, and educational opportunities that states currently offer to start-ups.

Here is a rundown of the other statewide entrepreneurship competitions:

Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest
The “nation’s first statewide, tech-based business plan contest” began in 2004 with the support of Governor Jim Doyle and is hosted by the Wisconsin Technology Council. The grand prize is $50,000 in cash and services with the 2010 finals scheduled in June.

Rhode Island Business Plan Competition
First organized by a group of Rhode Island’s community leaders in 2000, this competition is increasing its prize pool from $130,000 in 2009 to nearly $200,000 in 2010. Winners are selected in three different tracks: Green Track, Entrepreneur Track, and Student Track. Finals take place in May.

The Minnesota Cup
The Minnesota Cup competition for emerging Minnesota entrepreneurs is the product of government, academia and the business community and has attracted more than 4,000 entries since 2005. The 2010 competition will award over $130,000 in grants and investments to winners in six divisions. The registration deadline is May 21, 2010 (April 23 in Social Entrepreneurship).

East 2 West Nebraska New Venture Competition
Nebraska’s inaugural statewide entrepreneurship competition took place in December 2009. Invest Nebraska had received a $500,000 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to fund this competition for five years.  Invest Nebraska teamed up with the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the University of Nebraska Technology Park and Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development to host last year’s competition, and awarded a $50,000 grand prize.

Idaho TechLaunch
This event is organized by Idaho TechConnect, the Idaho National Lab, the Idaho Economic Development Association, the Idaho Office of Science and Technology, and private and public organizations throughout the state. In six years of competition, 37 companies have participated in TechLaunch, garnering more than $37 million in R&D and investment capital. Last year’s winners took home between $5,000 and $10,000 in prizes. The 2010 competition is scheduled for May 19-20 in Boise.

Innovate Illinois
Since 2005, 33 high-growth companies have been recognized as statewide winners in this competition and received $530,000 in cash and prizes. The 2010 competition, funded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through the Governor’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development program, will award $80,000 in cash prizes. Entries open in August with the finals scheduled for November.

Great Lakes Entrepreneurs Quest Business Plan Competition
Michigan’s twice-annual, two-track program targets both idea-stage ventures and companies with up to $3 million in cumulative sales. This is the tenth year for the competition run by the Annual Collaboration for Entrepreneurship (ACE). In addition to cash prizes ($5,000 in the New Business Idea category and $25,000 in the Emerging Company category), the 2010 event will for the first time hand out a $100,000 pre-seed investment from the Michigan SmartZones program.

MADE in Missouri State Entrepreneurship Competition
The Missouri Alliance for the Development of Entrepreneurship (MADE), a diverse group of organizations, academics, professionals, and entrepreneurs facilitated by the Missouri Valley Community Action Agency, was formed in 2009 to coordinate this statewide competition. The 2010 competition takes place in August at the Missouri State Fair.

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Joe Hurley is a CPA, author of "The Best Way to Save for College - A Complete Guide to 529 Plans", founder of, and co-founder of He has also recently started making maple syrup.
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  1. Pingback: Entrepreneur competitions | Digitalmemorie

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