But they're not the only winners. Anyone who went through the process of writing a business plan to enter the Challenge gains something. Just ask the participants of the COSE Business Plan Challenge 2002.
Blazine Monaco, executive director of The Littlest Heroes, credits much of the organization's success directly to its entry in the 2002 competition. The decision to enter this year's competition was a no-brainer for the nonprofit organization.
"We took last year's plan and learned how to change and detail it so that we could use it in our daily operations," says Monaco. "Once your plan is complete, you wonder how you could have done without it."
Writing a business plan makes you think about aspects of running a business that you wouldn't necessarily plan for but should, she says.
"Writing a business plan is a blueprint for your long-term goals. It makes you address issues before they happen and prepares you for setbacks. Entering the COSE Business Plan Challenge gave me the motivation and a deadline to take the time to go through the process and do what was needed to move forward."
Seeing the light
Kelly Chapman, owner and president of Lightworld Enterprises LLC and winner of an honorable mention in the 2002 COSE Business Plan Challenge, says the competition provided motivation.
"I had been talking about writing a business plan for a while, but I just hadn't put pen to paper," she says. ""The COSE Business Plan Challenge 2002 gave me the incentive to formalize the plans."
The first major aspect of the plan was moving her business out of her home and into office space. She also changed the way she accepted clients.
"My business plan called for Lightworld Enterprises to operate as a retained recruiter search firm rather than a contingency-based model," Chapman says. "Initially, we had to let go of some of our customers. It was kind of scary. But the transition was successful because we considered different contingencies while preparing the business plan and we stuck with it. Now we have new local and national clients."
Putting it to work
Both Chapman and Monaco use their plans as working documents.
"With the extensive work that has to be put into making the document, you should be using it," says Monaco.
Challenge participants not only come away with a plan for their business, they have a document that will help them sell their business ideas to others.
Last year, after the winners were announced, COSE held a networking event for participants, COSE members and business support organizations. Participants came with business plans in hand.
"It took everything in my power to get me to the networking event," Monaco says. "I forced myself to go, but what happened from that point on was quite remarkable. I made a contact, and as a result, we received more money than the grand prize. Meeting that one person advanced us two to three years.
"When you enter, you focus on the cash. But we've received more from the networking event."
Winners of the COSE Business Plan Challenge 2003 will be announced during the COSE Annual Meeting Tuesday, Dec. 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at LaCentre Banquet and Conference Center. For more information, visit www.cose.org or call (216)592-2222.