Attention all Minnesota startups and would-be startups: only a short time remains to enter the statewide business-plan competition known as The Minnesota Cup — applications are due Friday, May 22, 2009.
Now in its fifth year, the competition is bigger and better in 2009, with more prizes and more opportunities to win. The total amount of winnings this year was upped to more than $130,000. And the competition was expanded to now include six divisions — Clean & Green, BioSciences, High Tech, Social Entrepreneur, General, and Student. The first-place winner stands to win as much as $40,000. But I submit the money isn’t everything — the publicity and connections the winners get from this competition are worth far more.
The MN Cup, in more than doubling its prize money, stands in sharp contrast to a national study that recently reported angel investment dollars were down 26% in 2008. Yes, Minnesota entrepreneurs should take heart — seed funding is actually on the rise in this case! And many more founders can now participate in this competition with its newly added business categories.
Twin Cities Business magazine did a story on the 2008 MN Cup winners.
And here’s TwinCities Business’ story on the 2007 winners.
So, What’s in Store for 2009?
How many entrants can we expect this year, and how might this year’s crop differ? I asked Scott Litman, one of the MN Cup cofounders. “Submissions appear to be running at a similar pace to last year. With the six divisions being a new thing, the most popular category at this point is Clean & Green — we’re seeing nearly 30% of all entries in that division.”
Does he expect a rush of entries as the deadline approaches? “In our past experience, nearly a third of all submissions occur in the final 48 hours,” said Litman.
To apply for the competition, just visit www.minnesotacup.org and click on “Enter MN Cup.” Get this: there’s no cost! Zip, nada! So, all you bootstrappers out there — why wouldn’t you? The entry process, in it entirety, is via an online form, which you can save and come back to at a later time to complete the process.
“While we realize it’s natural to procrastinate, we strongly encourage entrants to set up their accounts and work on their entries sooner rather than later,” said Litman. “At the very least, it helps avoid any last-second technical issues — and, more importantly, entrants can edit or revise their submissions as much as they like, right up until the deadline. So, entering earlier gives them more time to refine and improve their entry.”
I asked Litman how many entries there were last year, and if he expected even more this year. “We had 844 total participants last year, which was by far our biggest year. Our goal is to get a similar level of participation this year. We believe, based on the current pace of entries, that this is about where we’ll end up.”
So, when do the judges/reviewers actually start looking at the submitted applications? Litman: “The deadline is midnight on 5/22, and we begin reviewing entries on the 23rd.”
Note to Tech Entrepreneurs Especially: Get Busy!
One other comment of Litman’s really struck me: “I’m not sure why, but the least well represented category so far for entries is high tech. At one level, it means we need more of these entries, but it also means that, for those that enter and write a really good plan, the odds of moving on to the second round are pretty good.” So, there you go, all my tech entrepreneur, inventor, and developer friends out there — have at it!
Here are a couple of the most common questions company founders ask about the MN Cup, with answers from the site’s FAQ page:
What Happens If My Application Gets Past the First Round?
There will be as many as 30 entries that move on to the semi-final round. At that point, you will have six weeks to put together a much more detailed and thorough plan. Notification will occur on June 20 with the second-round submission due by July 28. To assist you in your efforts, you will be provided with access to the James J. Hill premium membership program (HillSearch), the most powerful business information resource available to individuals.
How Will My Entry Be Judged?
Entries will be judged on the following criteria:
• Innovation: An idea can be for a product or service and can be an entirely new idea or the evolution of a previous idea. Ideas that show the greatest innovation will be viewed more favorably.
• Viability: Can this idea be commercialized within two years? Can this idea create or serve a market need? What is the entrant’s strategy for making the idea into a high-growth business? Judges will be evaluating ideas on their potential to generate revenue, profits and employment.
• Quality of Presentation: This is a secondary criteria, but please make sure that all content is well written and clear. As the competition progresses, quality of presentation will factor in more substantially.
Any resident of Minnesota can submit his or her breakthrough business idea simply by visiting www.minnesotacup.org. I’ve had the good fortune to work with a winning startup in a prior year (actually, before the name was changed to the MN Cup), and am working with an entrepreneur this year to help him with his entry — and I can attest: you will not be sorry you participated in this experience. Whether you win isn’t the most important thing. This is an extremely well run competition, in every way. The process itself will make you a better entrepreneur, guaranteed. But don’t just take my word — read this post from a previous winner, HealthSimple’s Doug Powell: Business Competitions — An Ongoing Discussion. And these testimonials from past entrants are also quite telling.
Good luck to all Minnesota Cup entrants! I look forward to meeting at least all the semi-finalists at a special event for them this summer (to be announced).