Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Time to Get Your Business Plans Ready for Start-Up Company Competitions

As we approach springtime in Minnesota (or is it summer?), it’s time to prepare for the annual spring rituals—putting away the winter coats, starting the spring yard work, cleaning out the garage, and tossing your broken NCAA basketball tournament pool sheets. For entrepreneurs, it’s also time to get ready for two prestigious business plan competitions: the Minnesota Cup and the Cleantech Open.
The Minnesota Cup will soon begin its seventh annual competition to identify the best entrepreneurial companies in Minnesota. The Minnesota Cup is a business plan competition that identifies the top Minnesota-based start-up businesses in each of six different divisions: Clean Technology and Renewable Energy, High Tech, BioScience and Health IT, General, Social Entrepreneur, and Student. You can submit your application to be named a top Minnesota start-up company beginning on March 26th and continuing through May 18th. For more information about the Minnesota Cup and this year’s event details, visit the competition’s website. 
I wrote about the Minnesota Cup last year as the application period was kicking off. As I mentioned in my prior post, there are lots of good reasons to compete in the Minnesota Cup, including the prize money—which is $25,000 this year for winners of each of the Clean Technology and Renewable Energy, High Tech, BioScience and Health IT, and General divisions; $20,000 for the Social Entrepreneur division; and $10,000 for the Student division. Winners also are allotted free services from some of the state’s top legal, accounting, and other professional service providers. More significant than these tangible rewards is that the participants in the Minnesota Cup have the opportunity to fine-tune their business plans and connect with some of the state’s most successful entrepreneurs, investors, business leaders, professional service providers, and others. One measure of the impact that the Minnesota Cup has had on its contestants is that the 2009 and 2010 Minnesota Cup finalists have already secured more than $15 million in external investments.
In addition to the Minnesota Cup, businesses in the Cleantech space should also consider applying for the Cleantech Open, which is accepting applications now for its accelerator program. The Cleantech Open is a national business plan competition and accelerator that seeks to “find, fund, and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today’s most urgent energy, environmental, and economic challenges.” The Cleantech Open is accepting applications through May 8th, and if you apply by April 3rd you can take advantage of the early bird entry fee of $90. You can learn more about the application specifics and the various Cleantech Open events throughout the remainder of the year by visiting the competition’s website.

I also wrote about the Cleantech Open last year, which you can read here if you’re interested. As you’ll note on the Cleantech Open website, and in my prior blog entry, the Cleantech Open divides the nation into several different regions, including the North Central Region (Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Wisconsin). Last year’s national winner (a Minnesota-based company), and a national finalist (from Wisconsin), came from the North Central Region. So, there are lots of interesting and successful cleantech businesses in the Midwest, and in Minnesota in particular. 
There are lots of good reasons for participating in the Cleantech Open, similar to those for the Minnesota Cup. In addition to the prize money and professional services you could win (up to $250,000 for the winners), contestants will have the opportunity to network with key entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, and leaders in the Cleantech space. Since its inception in 2006, the Cleantech Open has added tremendous value to its graduating alumni—the 581 participating companies in the Cleantech Open’s accelerator programs have raised more than $660 million in external capital.
So, among the other tasks you have planned for this spring, if you are an entrepreneur with an exciting business opportunity, you should consider applying for either or both of the Minnesota Cup and the Cleantech Open.

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