Making Breakthrough Ideas a Reality

Pawlenty Presents Entrepreneur Contest - March 10, 2005

The governor wants to know if there any ideas floating around the heads of the state's students, tinkerers, small-business owners and corporate cubicle-dwellers that could turn into the state's next big economy engine.

To bring those ideas into the light Gov. Tim Pawlenty had announced the creation of the first annual Minnesota Cup, a competition for groundbreaking business ideas. The contest will award $25,000 in seed money and free professional services to the winner.

The contest is sponsored by the University of Minnesota and supported by a group of business leaders. The winner will be the idea judges deem most original and commercially viable.

"The ongoing vitality of our state's economy depends upon the constant discovery and commercialization of innovative, entrepreneurial ideas," Pawlenty said at a news conference Wednesday. "It's these breakthrough ideas that have the powerful potential to grow and become the next Medtronic, Cargill or 3M of our state."

Scott Litman and Dan Mallin, two Minneapolis e-marketing entrepreneurs who recently left Connectjwt, the company they founded in 1991 as Imaginet, came up with the idea for the contest -- which is open to all Minnesotans.

Litman said that nearly 20 years ago as a University of a Minnesota student he entered a national contest sponsored by Apple Computer Inc. to design the computer of 2000.

Thousands of people entered and he was chosen as a finalist. He said the experience directly led to Imaginet, which grew into one of the top 10 Web-marketing firms nationwide.

"It opened the door. People were calling me," said Litman, 38. "When I started Imaginet, it was people I had met through the contest who were the key to my being able to start a company at such a young age."

Similar exposure, Litman and Mallin reasoned, could help another Minnesotan bring an idea to market.

An endowment created by Dave and Carolyn Cleveland, longtime supporters of entrepreneurial studies at the university, provides the prize money. Dave Cleveland was an advocate for small business at Riverside Bank, which he founded in 1973 and sold in 1999 to Wisconsin-based Associated Bank for $89.9 million.

Contest Applications will be accepted online through May 6 at Thirty semifinalists will be chosen, with the presentation of the Minnesota Cup set for sometime in August.