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The goal of the “We’re All Innovating Contest” grant program is to support small and startup businesses to develop innovative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The program is designed to provide financial support to innovative startup and established small businesses in Wisconsin through a competitive process judged by a review committee of business and industry experts administered in partnership with the Wisconsin Technology Council. Contest winners will receive grants from WEDC through federal CARES Act funding to support business model and technology innovations that respond to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.



How much funding is available?


Most business plan competitions provide higher prize levels to category and overall winners. Because the “We’re All Innovating” contest intends to address both depth and breadth of awards, prizes will be awarded at multiple levels.


Category winners and an overall winner will be provided with additional rounds of funding for a “stacking” effect and increased support for the most promising innovations. By scaling funding to the size of the business, providing more individual awards for smaller companies, and providing additional funds to winners, the WAIC contest can reach up to 195 companies with $3 million in total funding.



Who is eligible to enter and what are the entry requirements?


All new and established for-profit small businesses in Wisconsin with 50 employees or fewer will be eligible.


Entrants must be 18 or older; specific ownership and location requirements are listed once you enter the “Apply Now” portal and create an account.


The categories and scoring criteria will be adjusted to allow for “like-against-like” competition so new companies are not compared directly to established businesses, and innovations in biotechnology or software are not scored against a restaurant’s approach to safer operations. Business size categories are:


  • New businesses and businesses with 5 or fewer full-time equivalent employees
  • Businesses with between 6 and 20 full-time equivalent employees
  • Businesses with between 21 and 50 full-time equivalent employees


All entries must be made through the “Apply now” tab on this website, That begins with applicants opening an account and providing basic information.



What are the innovation categories?


Within the categories that determine business size by number of employees, there are categories tied to the type of innovation being employed. The following categories will apply to startups, small and medium businesses listed above.


  • Technology innovation to address COVID-19 impacts on health
    Innovations targeted at combating the impact of the virus on health. This could be safety equipment, detection and testing technology, treatment or prevention medicines, medical devices and equipment, or any other innovations related to the health and medical side of the pandemic.


  • Technology innovation to address COVID-19 impacts on businesses
    Innovations intended to address the business and economic impacts of COVID-19. These innovations could be software for remote work and education, new products to meet demand created by social distancing, tools to allow businesses to operate more efficiently under safer practices, new e-commerce solutions for traditionally brick and mortar businesses, and other innovations that help businesses and the economy through these challenging times. If you have a new technology related to COVID and it is not focused on health impacts, this is your category.


  • Service and business operation innovations to respond to COVID-19 disruption
    Businesses of all shapes and sizes have had to adjust how they do business during the pandemic. Many have come up with creative solutions to continue their business while others have pivoted to entirely new products and services. Innovations in this category could be a sit-down restaurant adjusting to takeout and delivery, a retail shop increasing its online presence, a service business finding new ways to meet with clients, or any other business model pivot that allows your business to survive and even thrive during the pandemic.


(Applications to multiple categories are not allowed)



How are the entries scored?


A competitive selection process using a broad panel of reviewers and weighted scoring metrics will be used to evaluate applications. Judges will consider:


  • Ability of the innovation to address the intended impact of COVID-19
  • Significance of the innovation
  • Progress made on the innovation and work yet to be completed
  • Quality of the business and implementation plan
  • Commitment to the business and innovation
  • Viability of the innovation
  • Financial plan and additional resources committed or leveraged
  • Near and long-term impact of the innovation
  • Experience in areas relevant to proposed innovation
  • Need for and impact of grant support
  • Impact of the innovation on rural or ethnically diverse communities


Applicants should keep these criteria in mind as they complete question boxes within their application.



What is the contest timeline?


Applications will be accepted on the website ONLY beginning 8 a.m. Sept. 29 and close at 11:59 p.m., Oct. 18.


Judging will take place in late October and early November.


Grant announcements will be made by Dec. 15.



How and when will grant awardees report on their progress and success?


Awardees will be required to complete performance reports at three months and 12 months after receiving WAIC funding documenting project progress and innovation results, as well as any other relevant information.