From a pool of more than 1,000 entrepreneurs, the Minnesota Cup has selected nearly 50 who will continue in the semifinal round. Regardless of which ideas claim the competition's $185,000 in prize money, the real winner will be Minnesota's economy.
Now in its 7th year, the Minnesota Cup is a statewide competition that seeks out aspiring entrepreneurs and their breakthrough ideas. It was co-founded by University of Minnesota graduate Scott Litman, '90 B.A., an entrepreneur who grows fledgling businesses into industry powerhouses.
The idea for the competition traces back to Litman's participation in a national competition held by Apple shortly before he graduated from the University.
"It was instrumental in helping me meet people, develop connections, and allowed me to start my entrepreneurial path," says Litman of the Apple competition.
Litman realized budding entrepreneurs in Minnesota could benefit from a similar experience.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and thought wouldn't it be great if we could pay it forward and create something that was for Minnesota entrepreneurs only?" he says.
Litman and his partner at Magnet 360, Dan Mallin, '95 CEMBA, approached the Carlson School of Management, the Governor's Office, and Wells Fargo and the idea became a reality--one that has grown every year. Since 2005, the Cup has received more than 5,000 entries, past finalists have received more than $30 million in private equity funding and created scores of jobs, and perhaps most importantly, the competition has created an environment in which the state's startups can succeed.
"We're really trying to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem. We're trying to make Minnesota a better place to build businesses," says Litman. "Only a small number of participants will receive cash prizes. But the mentors, the networking, and the seminars will impact a great number of people."
"It's not just the winners who gain from it," says John Stavig, professional director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship which organizes the event. "Every year, people who didn't win have given us feedback that it has been really helpful for them to go through the process of planning for their business, to have some deadlines, and to meet people."
Through the Holmes Center, semifinalists are paired with one or two mentors who are experienced, serial entrepreneurs. In addition to mentoring, the Minnesota Cup and its professional services partners conduct events on topics such as developing business plans, raising capital, and improving presentation skills.
"Becoming connected with local professionals and other entrepreneurs and having a network of people who could help them in the business were a lot more valuable than the prize money," Stavig adds.
Having attended the Carlson School's Undergraduate and MBA programs and having worked with Stavig, Ben Bowman knew participating in the Minnesota Cup could be a boost to his new venture, General Blood, LLC.
"I think it's a great way to hone what your value proposition is, what you're really trying to do in the market," says Bowman. "Going through the process of the plan and the essays, even if you've been working an idea for years, makes you focus. Plus the networking is a big deal."
In many respects, competing in the Minnesota Cup reminds Bowman of being back in school.
"Once you've been through the MBA program at Carlson, everything starts to look like a case study," he says. "And the Minnesota Cup is a lot like a case study on steroids."
Regardless of the final outcome, Bowman already considers his company a winner.
"Just getting this far is recognition that we could be part of health care solution in reducing costs and improving care."