Intuit to award $50,000 to small business winner

For those who can't wait until November to cast a vote, here's a more immediate alternative. Intuit Inc. is asking Americans to select a budding entrepreneur to win a $50,000 business startup package as part of its Just Start contest.

The voting is free of debates, caucuses, and primaries, with polling places open online. The winner will be the entrepreneur who voters believe offers the clearest, most feasible business idea. The victor receives $40,000 in cash and $10,000 in products and services. Two semifinalists will each receive $5,000 in cash.

The election culminates Intuit's Just Start campaign that began last fall, an effort to stoke the American entrepreneurial spirit which, according to a recent Intuit survey, is stronger than ever. The QuickBooks Just Start Survey found that nearly three-quarters of Americans dream of starting their own business and 81 percent believe that running their own company would be more empowering than holding a regular job. Furthermore, 38 percent of Americans already regret not starting their own business.

To inspire and guide these many would-be entrepreneurs, the Just Start campaign visited four cities across the nation, attracting more than 1,500 budding business owners to enter the Just Start contest. The contest encouraged them to submit letters or videos describing their business dream, what they need to make it happen, and how they would use Intuit's Just Start business grant to get started.

"We were thrilled with the response to the Just Start contest," said Rick Jensen, vice president of Intuit's small business division. "It definitely confirms that the American Dream of owning a business is alive and well. We congratulate everyone who entered and hope that the inspiration, tools, and support we've provided will help them pursue their business aspirations."

The five semifinalists

An independent panel of small business experts, including Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends, John Jantsch of Duct Tape Marketing, and Ramon Ray of Smallbiztechnology.com, narrowed the contestants to five semi-finalists. The winner, who will be announced in early February, will be the entrepreneur who receives the most votes on www.IWillJustStart.com by Jan. 31. The Just Start semifinalists and their business ideas are:

  • Carmin David, Bolingbrook, IL – Daycare for kids with special needs

  • Alissa and Noah DeRouchie, of Columbus, OH – Café-style restaurant with kid-friendly environment

  • Daniel and Tina Garrido, of Seattle, WA – Asian-inspired dog treats

  • Joy LaFrance, of Natick, MA – Doggie daycare

  • Suzanne Sprague, of Bremerton, WA – Personalized children's music

    Judges said selecting just five semifinalists was difficult.

    "We believe that these semifinalists are the crème de la crème based on the clarity and feasibility of their business idea," said Ray, technology evangelist and editor of Smallbiztechnology.com. "This $50,000 business grant will give one of these lucky entrepreneurs a real chance to launch their dream business. And for those who don't win, the contest is still a beacon for them to take the next step in doing what they really want to do.

    Free small business accounting software

    As part of the Just Start campaign, Intuit is offering its easy-to-use QuickBooks Simple Start accounting software for free. Previous versions of the award-winning software were valued at $99.95.

    Simple Start software tracks the essentials of "money in" and "money out" and keeps key business data organized for tax time. The software can be downloaded at www.IWillJustStart.com. In addition, visitors can find valuable resources, advice and tools for starting a business, and join others in making a New Year's resolution to start a business in 2008.

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