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2014 Business Plan Challenge now open for entries

Chair croppedSouth Florida entrepreneurs, show us what you’ve got!

As we launch our 16th annual Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge today, we are putting out our annual call for entries. Don’t let the name of the contest scare you: We aren’t looking for long, laboriously detailed business plans. Quite the contrary.

More and more, today’s investors in very early stage companies want to see a succinct presentation of your concept and how you plan to turn it into a success. We do, too.

If you have a business idea or an operating startup that is less than two years old, enter the Challenge, our annual celebration of South Florida entrepreneurship. Sponsored by the Pino Global Entrepreneurship Center at Florida International University, our contest has three tracks — a Community Track, open to all South Floridians; an FIU Track, open to students and alumni of that university; and a High School Track, co-sponsored by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Your entry may be up to three pages, and you may attach one additional page for a photo, rendering, diagram or spreadsheet if you wish. Think of it as a meaty executive summary. Experts in all aspects of entrepreneurship — serial entrepreneurs, executives, investors, advisors and finance specialists (see judge bios on MiamiHerald.com/challenge) — will judge your short plan. In doing so, they will be looking at your product or service’s value to the customer, market opportunity, business model, management team and your marketing and financial strategies. See the contest rules on Miamiherald.com/challenge, which also include tips on preparing your entry.

Your entry is due by 11:59 p.m. April 5. Entries should be sent to challenge@miamiherald.com, fiuchallenge@miamiherald.com or highschoolchallenge@miamiherald.com.

“The stand-out business plan entries typically have three elements: They define the problem their business is solving, clearly explain the solution, and provide tangible details as to why they have the ability to make the business a success,” says Melissa Krinzman, managing director of Venture Architects and a veteran Challenge judge.

In March, we’ll host a free Business Plan Bootcamp, where you can bring your working plan with you for advice from experts, including Krinzman. We’ll post details soon on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

And in Business Monday and on MiamiHerald.com/challenge, we’ll be bringing you advice and answering your questions. You can email your questions to me at ndahlberg@miamiherald.com. Follow @ndahlberg on Twitter.

The top six finalists in the Community and FIU Tracks will present their 90-second elevator pitches for our popular video contest. (See last year’s videos on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.)

For the FIU track this year for the first time, we will require the top six to give short presentations to the judges. The results will be considered in the final rankings, and it will be an opportunity for one-on-one feedback from the judges.

On May 19, in a special section of Business Monday, we will profile the 11 winners — the judge’s top three selections in each track plus the People’s Pick winners. Along the way, we will unveil semifinalists and finalists to keep the suspense building.

Find the contest rules, meet the judges, and read about last year's winners on MiamiHerald.com/challenge.

And be sure to enter by April 5. May the best plans win. Good luck!