trophybBusiness competitions can be a great way to jumpstart your entrepreneurial aspirations. Regardless of whether you win the competition or not, there are many potential benefits to participating in the process (although winning doesn’t hurt either). For those of us with the tendency to procrastinate, a competition deadline can be a hidden gift—a way to force us to knuckle down and crank out that business plan or executive summary that has been bouncing around in our head. Additionally, some competitions can provide an introduction to resources that are outside of your existing network. At the very least, this is a low-risk way to test-drive your pitch.

A couple competitions I have been following on Merge have recently announced winners. The Minnesota Cup is an annual business competition that Lisa and I participated in back in 2005 with HealthSimple. 2009 brought an expansion of the Cup with newly created divisions to categorize the more than 800 entrants. The Cup requires entrants who progress to the second round to submit a complete business plan—which in our case was one of those hidden gifts. We did not have a business plan until then and it proved to be a valuable document that contained the answers to many questions we encountered as we built our business. Here are the 2009 Minnesota Cup winners:

CoreSpine Technologies received the 4th Annual Minnesota Cup first prize package, which includes $50,000 in seed capital, consulting by Wells Fargo and professionals from area law firms, accounting firms, PR & marketing, business organization services from the Maslon law firm, one year of access to “HillSearch” from the James J. Hill Reference Library, a scholarship to attend The Collaborative’s upcoming Minnesota Venture Finance Conference and a national news story over the ARA Content Network.

The second-place winner, MyWonderfulLife.com, receives $10,000. The third-place winner, Klodas Foods: Fibre and Beyond, receives $5,000. The second and third place winners also will receive business support services from contest sponsors. The student winner, Zipnosis, will receive $5,000.

MyWonderfulLife.com was co-founded by Sue Kruskopf, a principal at Minneapolis agency Kruskopf Coontz, who also created the site.

For ten years, the Sappi Paper Ideas That Matter competition has been a way for designers with big (or just really good) ideas to get seed money to bring their idea to life. I don’t have much detail about the 2009 recipients, but the list looks intriguing. Included are design industry big-shots Winterhouse and Pentagram, and an entrant from the AIGA San Francisco chapter.