BRATTLEBORO -- Last year Vermont Technical College thought the Strolling of the Heifers Vermont Farm/Food Business Plan Competition was such a good idea that the college hosted its own competition in three central Vermont counties in 2012.
More than $22,000 was given out last year to food and farming entrepreneurs in Washington, Windsor and Orange counties, based on the Strolling of the Heifers and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation model which helps the businesses develop a strong business plan, and then rewards the plans which the judges feel have the best chance of success.
This year Vermont Technical College has partnered with the Strolling of the Heifers and with BDCC to create a statewide competition which supporters say will help food and farm businesses across Vermont.
"It has been our dream to expand this contest to the whole state of Vermont," said Strolling of the Heifers founder and executive director Orly Munzing. "This is a great first step."
After working with business owners in four Vermont counties last year, this year's competition will be open to entrepreneurs across the state who are looking to expand their businesses and ideas.
Event organizers are looking for existing business owners, or people with a new idea to register before Feb. 5.
On Feb. 5 organizers will hold a business prospectus workshop over interactive video.
The finalists will be announced on March 20 and the winners will be announced on June 5 in the days leading up to the 2013 Strolling of the Heifers.
The Vermont Farm/Food Business Plan Competition is supposed to support and encourage businesses that are involved with food and farming.
Steve Paddock, director of the Vermont Tech Enterprise Center Business Incubator, said the college liked the way the competition had an accumulative effect of getting the business owners to think about their businesses.
The competition's awards are incentive to get involved, but Paddock said the competition had a longer range effect of helping every business owner who gets involved with the event.
"In the process of developing their business plans, contestants will gain practical experience in analyzing their business, their markets and their ideas," Paddock said.
All entries must involve some aspect of food, farming or forestry.
The judges look for the strongest business plan and reward the plans which they feel have the greatest chance of success.
This year $60,000 will be given out to new and existing businesses, and for the first time there will be a student division.
Up to five finalists will be selected in the new and existing categories and there will be four finalists in the student category.
BDCC started its general business competition in 2006 and in 2011 the business group teamed up with Strolling of the Heifers to start the farm and food category.
BDCC still runs a general business competition every year.
Strolling of the Heifers Marketing Director Martin Langeveld said the partnership with Vermont Tech this year marks an important step for the event as it extends its reach outside of Windham County.
The stroll also started a microloan program for farmers a few years ago which has been taken over by a Boston-based organization, The Carrot Project.
Langeveld hopes the statewide business plan competition can help grow interest in investing in farm and food business. He said future investments could help spread the program into regional competitions which would spread the prize money, and business help, even further.
"This is a step along the way for us. We like to take things that we start and make them bigger," Langeveld said. "There is a lot of entrepreneurship out there that needs support. It really fits in with where Vermont is headed right now. It's great to see it expand like this."
For more information go to www.strollingoftheheifers.com and click on the event registration tab.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.