Contest seeks bright ideas for business

by Ryan Dionne

Entrepreneurs throughout Minnesota have been submitting ideas for potential businesses with the hope of winning the first Breakthrough Ideas competition.

The competition, which is open to Minnesota college students, connects the state’s entrepreneurs with local businesses and executives, said Scott Litman, Breakthrough Ideas co-founder and co-chairman.

With just under a month left in the first round of the competition, organizers have already received more entries than expected, Litman said.

They expected to have between 300 to 500 entrants, but with less than a month left to submit ideas, they are already in that range, he said.

“I would say that about 20 percent of the entries we’re receiving look very, very promising,” Litman said.

He also said it’s obvious approximately 20 percent of the entrants didn’t put enough time into their submissions, and the remaining 20 percent fall somewhere in the middle.

Despite the number of final entries, only 30 entrants will be chosen for the second round of the competition, Litman said.

The second round consists of an in-depth analysis of the contestant’s idea, including a marketing and sales plan and a financial projection, Litman said.

Five people will then advance to round three, in which they will present their ideas to a panel of judges who will choose three winners, he said.

Many of the judges are chief executive officers of Minnesota businesses.

The first-place entrant will receive $25,000 in cash that can be used however the winner decides, but it will hopefully be used to further his or her idea, Litman said.

The winner will also get a one-year subscription to St. Paul’s James J. Hill Reference Library, and public relations assistance and media coverage from Twin Cities Business Monthly, he said.

The second- and third-place finishers will receive $5,000 and $2,500 in cash, respectively, among other prizes, Litman said.

But just because someone doesn’t win, he said, it doesn’t mean his or her idea is bad.

“For the people that don’t (win), they may be on to something, and we may miss it,” Litman said.

John Stavig, Center for Entrepreneurial Studies professional director in the Carlson School of Management, said the competition is a great educational opportunity.

The money, networking opportunities and experience are the most important aspects of the competition, Stavig said.

Though he won’t enter the competition, Stavig said he plans to help students who do.

Katie Thayer, Entrepreneurship Club president, said she doesn’t know anyone who plans to enter the competition but said it’s a great thing for students to do.

“It gives them a chance to actually express their ideas out into the world and get recognition for what they’re doing,” Thayer said.

Potential entrants have until May 6 to submit their business ideas, Litman said.