Tom Still: It all starts with an idea: Business plan contest offers entrepreneurs a way to build

This is an excerpt from a column posted at BizOpinion.

There may be as many ways to get a company up-and-running as there are startups.

The lean startup methodology works for some, especially if the goal is to produce a “minimum viable product” that allows entrepreneurs to learn from potential customers before they build something the market doesn’t really want.

For others who operate in regulated environments, the pathway to a commercially appealing product may be more methodical and require step-by-step validation.

Some ‘treps prefer to go-it-alone, others prefer working in a team, and still others think the only way to innovate is to find a cool co-working space with a ping-pong table.

It all starts with an idea, however, and a plan to take it from cocktail napkin notes to reality.

That’s what the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest has done for hundreds of entrepreneurs since its inception in 2004. The 11th annual contest is open for entries through 5 p.m. Jan. 31 at All you need to get started is an idea – and the time it takes to write a first-round entry.

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:

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