What a year it's been for Livestock Water Recycling Inc., a Calgary-based maker of manure treatment systems. Sales have quadrupled, potential investors are lined up at the door, and the commercial-grade lab so critical to the company's global expansion strategy is now built and awaiting installation of the final pieces of instrumentation.
"It's amazing how much interest we've garnered not just in Canada but also in North America," says Ross Thurston, president of the 24-year-old company, which has about 20 employees. "We've been reported on in major dailies and industry magazines – it's really been an exciting year."
The catalyst for this flurry of activity? Livestock Water Recycling won last year's Small Business Challenge Contest. Sponsored by The Globe and Mail and Telus Corp., the Challenge Contest asks small enterprises across Canada to share their biggest business challenge and explain how they can solve this problem with the $100,000 cash prize. More than 1,000 companies entered the contest last year.
This year's contest, which launches Monday and ends May 26, will again award $100,000 to the winning company. What's new are 14 additional prizes. Four semi-finalists will each get a Business Prize package that includes three technology devices with customer support, a one-year subscription to Globe Unlimited, and mentorship from a business expert. Judges will also pick 10 businesses from the country's Atlantic, north, west and central regions for Regional Recognition prizes of three business devices each.
The four semi-finalists will be announced on June 19 and the winner on Sept. 18. In October, the Globe will announce the 10 Regional Recognition recipients during Small Business Week. The Challenge Contest is open to small businesses across the country, except Quebec, that are owned by a legal resident of Canada and employ fewer than 100 workers.
"We're looking for businesses with a compelling narrative – the types of business you want to tell other people about or wish you had started yourself," says Katherine Scarrow, small business editor at The Globe and Mail and one of seven Challenge Contest judges. "We're also looking for businesses with a focus on the triple bottom line, ones that use sustainable business practices and are always innovating not just with technology but in finding new ways to grow."
Other members of this year's judging panel are The Globe and Mail's Sean Stanleigh and Steve Tustin, Jim Senko and Suzanne Trusdale from Telus, Carolyn Lawrence from Women of Influence Inc., and Chris Griffiths of Fine Tune Consulting.
Ms. Trusdale, who leads the small business solutions sales channel at Telus, says she's looking forward to seeing this year's batch of contenders.
"When I look at past winners they've been clearly about innovation," she says. "It always amazes me how bold and brilliant Canada's entrepreneurs are – they're tomorrow's self-made millionaires taking a chance today."
What will catch her eye as she reviews this year's entries?
"What will definitely grab my attention is some new idea demonstrating innovation," she says. "But I'll also be looking for some kind of evidence that they'll be able to build and sustain a successful business."
Ms. Trusdale says she'll also be looking for entries that make a compelling business case for how a $100,000 cash infusion can help them innovate further and take their company to the next level.
"I want to see how $100,000 being invested in innovation will really make a huge difference to how a company takes its product to market, and how it will push them over to the next growth stage," she says.
Both Ms. Trusdale and Ms. Scarrow caution contestants from presenting an operational expense as the reason they need $100,000. The prize money is meant to advance a strategic investment, not to cover standard budget items such as marketing or administrative costs.
Mr. Griffiths at Fine Tune Consulting urges contest participants to take ample time and care in completing the entry. He is a veteran Challenge judge and says he has seen some entries that mask "what may often be a wonderful businesses underneath."
If you want to win, submit an entry that is fun to read, has powerful, quantifiable facts, and gets to the point, says Mr. Griffiths, adding that he'll be giving top marks to companies that offer disruptive products or services backed by intellectual property rights.
"The entry process is not arduous, so invest time in doing it well," he says. "Find a communications expert or writer in your network to help vet your presentation so it has power in spite of the reader – the judges – not being experts in your field. What seems obvious to you may be confusing or irrelevant to me if not communicated effectively."
Ms. Lawrence at Women of Influence says she wants to see "big vision" from this year's contestants. "And I'm looking for a clear plan to realize that big vision," she says. "What I'm always really inspired by is people who can really think big but also have the talent to put their big idea into an action plan – not everyone has both these strengths."
What's the biggest piece of advice she can give to small business owners who are thinking of throwing their hat into the Challenge ring?
"Do it," she says. "Even if you don't win, the exposure potential just from being a candidate is extremely valuable. And the exercise of having to zero in on what's really unique about your business and what you need to do to drive it forward – that has so many benefits beyond the contest."
To enter the contest, click here.
Ready to be a contender in this year's Challenge Contest? Here's some advice from Ross Thurston, president of last year's winning business, Calgary-based Livestock Water Recycling Inc., and Colin Bell, managing partner for business development at RecycleSmart Solutions Inc., one of four semi-finalists in 2013.
Show your passion: Make sure the strong conviction you feel for your business shows through in your application and, if you make it as a semi-finalist, in the in-person pitch session. "We're not the best presenters, but we really believe our business can make a fundamental difference, and the judges saw that," Mr. Thurston says.
Make it short, sweet and high-impact: A good idea, says Mr. Bell, is to craft your elevator pitch and then use it to build your application. "Doing this will help you think about your message and distill it down to what information is really important and what isn't," he says.
Have a clear and specific challenge: Mr. Bell suggests looking at your business strategy and figuring out what you need to do to break through to the next growth stage, what it will cost, and what results it will yield. "You need to be able to say, 'If you give me this money, I will do X, which will result in Y," he says.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of workers a business must employ to be eligible for the Challenge Contest. It is fewer than 100, not fewer than 150.