Turning great ideas into great businesses

Northwest Minnesota is a place where ingenuity thrives. The region, which has come to be known as the “Ingenuity Frontier” is an area like no other in the Midwest, dotted with manufacturers and technology companies thriving within a local culture of engineering knowledge and creativity.

The IDEA Competition was designed for one purpose — to grow the economy of Northwest Minnesota by outfitting the next generation of homegrown innovators for success in the global marketplace. To accomplish its purpose, the program identifies the most promising ideas and entrepreneurs through a competitive process, awards cash to winners, and provides intensive follow-up assistance. Since inception, 24 winners have been selected, and more than $400,000 has been awarded to help these entrepreneurs in commercializing their ideas.

The 2019-2020 IDEA Competition will be open for submissions on November 1, 2019.

If you have an innovative business idea and want to turn it into a profitable business, the IDEA Competition can help. The IDEA Competition will add momentum to your business strategy, whether you’ve never started a company or you’re already in business and generating revenue.

IDEA Competition participants receive:
  • Valuable tools and business development resources
  • A business coach
  • Open access to all IDEA labs
  • A chance to present your business idea to potential investors and business leaders
  • A chance to win one of our $10,000 cash prizes to get your business moving
  • A chance to win valuable professional services such as accounting, legal, and marketing
  • A chance to win a spot as a semifinalist in the Minnesota Cup
Judging Criteria:

Business opportunity: A strong business opportunity is one which effectively addresses a real customer need or problem and which has a strong likelihood of becoming profitable.

Business model: a well-articulated business model clearly explains how the business will generate revenue, i.e., how customer transactions will occur.

Strength of entrepreneur team: a strong entrepreneur team is one in which key leaders and advisors are available (or identified subject to financing) to fill key positions to execute the operations plan.

Strength of financials: strong financials are based on solid assumptions, and show a clear path to revenue, and ultimately, profitability.

Strength of marketing plan: a strong marketing plan includes strategy founded on good market research, shows understanding of the target customer, identifies who will be responsible for what, and is tied to timelines.

Past Winners
1st Place: ELITE Additive
2nd Place: Ward Enterprises
3rd Place: D3D

  • Caroline Hayden LLC
  • Real Good Bath and Body
  • Safe-D-Transfer
  • Bolton Bees
  • DeanUltraThinRetainer
  • Stittsworth Meats
  • Far North Spirits
  • Aircorps Aviation
  • LitWeaver Inc.
  • Eickhof Columbaria Inc.
  • Wagner Malting & Brewing Inc.
  • Addy-Olly, LLC
  • CR Data Solutions
  • Reel Deal
  • Spot-Knot
  • Stand Alone Game Calls
  • Lamplighter Hockey
  • Hubmaster
  • The Sidekick
  • Slot-Rail Fence
  • Varimax Evaporator
  • Eleven Hockey
  • LaValley Industries
  • Grand Steer – Turn@bout
  • Craft Night Out
  • EquipAll Grapple/Hoe
  • LaValley Industries
  • Insect Inferno
  • Highway My Way
  • Trophy Head Shot
  • MacAttach Inc
How do I enter?
The process to enter the competition is rather simple – fill out and submit the online application form and submit the required $150 application fee. All eligible applications are advanced to round one of the competition. Application fees will be refunded for those applications which are deemed ineligible.
Enter Now
Innovation comes in many forms. While many of our past winners have had innovative product ideas, we are also looking for entrepreneurs with innovative services, processes, or business models. Innovation can be revolutionary. At times, it is simply an improvement or an incremental advance. Here are just a few examples of business innovation in northwest Minnesota:

  • Digi-Key – innovative business model
  • Mattracks – innovative products
  • Central Boiler – innovative products
  • Northern Woolen Mills – innovative sales model
  • Wells Technology – innovation in product development
  • Weave Got Maille – innovative sales model
  • LaValley Industries – innovative products
  • Insect Inferno – innovative process
Is this an invention competition?
Not really. IDEA is more than an invention competition. IDEA is about the commercialization of ideas – in other words, turning great ideas into great businesses. An idea is only a beginning. It takes skill, strategy, and execution to turn an idea into something more. That is the purpose of the IDEA Competition – to help you turn your great idea into a profitable business venture.
What do I need to know about the IDEA process?
Application process – the IDEA process starts with submitting an application. Once you have submitted your application, IDEA will review it for eligibility. If your application is deemed eligible, you will be accepted into the first round of the competition. If it is deemed ineligible, your application fee will be returned to you.

Round One – for the first round, you will have to submit a business plan, startup costs, and cash flow projections. The IDEA judging panel will review and score your materials and provide you with feedback on your plan and financials. The highest scoring round one applications will be advanced to the IDEA finals.

Finals – if you are chosen as an IDEA finalist, you will be asked to refine your business plan and financials based on the feedback you have received from round one. You will also be required to create a 30 second video and an oral presentation for the IDEA judging panel. Winning the Competition Based on the final business plan, financials, video, and oral presentation, the final judging panel will select up to three winners which will each receive a $10,000 cash award, valuable professional services (accounting, legal, marketing), and attention in the media. Finalists who are not selected as Grand Prize winners will each receive a $1,000 cash award.

All IDEA participants are winners. Simply going through the process has helped past participants refine their business strategies and better position themselves for commercial success.

How will my business idea be judged?
For both round one and the IDEA finals, a panel of judges will read and score each applicant on several key areas, with 1-10 points awarded for each of the following judging criteria: business opportunity, business model, strength of entrepreneur team, strength of financials, and strength of marketing plan.
Can I enter more than one idea?
IDEA does not encourage submitting applications for more than one idea. The effort to launch just one idea is quite exhaustive. Applicants are encouraged to enter the competition with the idea that has the greatest potential to generate revenue.
What are the eligibility requirements?
To be eligible, you must be either a resident of Northwest Minnesota, or own a business that is located in Northwest Minnesota. Award monies will not be disbursed to any individual without either proof of residency or proof of business location within Northwest Minnesota.

For the purposes of the IDEA Competition, Northwest Minnesota includes the following counties: Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Kittson, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake and Roseau.

Either an individual or a team of up to four persons is eligible.

What is the cost to enter?
The regular application fee is $150. The competition also offers a reduced rate of $25 for students.
How can I be assured that my idea is safe?
IDEA organizers will take reasonable steps to protect participants’ intellectual property, and we ask that you also take appropriate steps to protect your ideas.
Our responsibility
Electronic and hard copies of business plan entries will be viewed by or distributed to judges and organizers only. Our judging panel – comprised of experienced investors, executives, business service professionals, and entrepreneurs – is accustomed to hearing ideas, business pitches and new deals on a regular basis. Each member respects the entrants’ confidentiality rights and signs a confidentiality agreement as a condition of their participation; however, IDEA will not arbitrate any disputes over judges’ handling of entries. Additionally, if there is a relationship between a member of the judging panel and an entrant, it will be disclosed to other judges for that particular entry, and the judge will recuse him or herself from judging that entry if it is determined that a conflict of interest exists.
Your responsibility
First and foremost, as an entrant, you are free to exclude any material you feel to be truly proprietary and at risk of disclosure. However, business plans that are incomplete or missing information will be very difficult for our judging panel to evaluate and the scoring of your application may be affected. If there is material that you will be sharing that is truly proprietary, whether you are sharing it with IDEA or anyone else, you should take appropriate steps to protect yourself. We recommend that you go to the website of the United States Patent and Trademark Office for the most up to date information and resources on patents.

If you are part of a team, intra-team confidentiality is the sole responsibility of team members, and we will not arbitrate any disputes among team members that arise during the competition. Individuals or teams advancing to the final round will be required to submit a brief statement of their venture to be used for public relations purposes. This may be as general or specific as a team desires, but it should be considered public information. We expect all judges to act ethically. Special note: all developmental work done with the Northwest Small Business Development Center will be confidential and a signed confidentiality form will be in place prior to beginning consulting work.

Partner Organizations
  • Northwest Minnesota Foundation
  • Headwaters Regional Development Commission
  • Northwest Regional Development Commission
  • LaunchPad
  • University of Minnesota – Crookston
  • Minnesota State Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence
  • University of Minnesota Extension
Hall of Fame Winners
  • Batchelder Family
  • Christian Brothers Inc.
  • Keith Johanneson Family
  • Steiger Family
  • Don Ricke
  • Mark Larson and Ron Stordahl
  • William (Bill) S. Marvin
  • Dennis and Glen Brazier
  • Andy Wells
  • Edgar Hetteen
Regional Impact Award Winners
  • Michelle Landsverk
  • Grant Oppegaard

Contact Phil Knutson, Competition Organizer