There are a number of business plan competitions and entrepreneurship-related contests that come around every year, and anyone willing to support startups with cash and free services gets a big thumbs up from this guy. But the newest program announced last month by Comcast Business — Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs — isn't your average contest, unless you think an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City and one-on-one consulting with nationally recognized business experts is average.

Innovation 4 Entrepreneurs is a national competition that will award more than $600,000 in cash and services to 32 aspiring entrepreneurs who are leveraging technology to enhance customer and employee experiences. The knee-jerk reaction to national competitions might be that it's going to be pretty hard to get noticed, especially since Comcast Business is a ubiquitous brand that will undoubtedly draw some impressive application numbers. 

Here's the good news, Comcast Business is selecting two winners from each of its 16 regions. That means that for the first round, which awards each winner $5,000 in cash and $2,500 in credit and services, your competition will be your neighbors in the greater Indianapolis/Michigan area.

Based on a 250-word essay (and up to five supporting links to documents, photos or screenshots, thank goodness), the two regional winners will be selected based on: 

  1. one winner for best use of technology to enhance the customer experience, and

  2. one winner for best use of technology to enhance the employee experience. 

Entries will be judged by John Jantsch, Marketing Consultant, Speaker and best-selling author of Duct Tape Marketing, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and Anita Campbell, Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends. 

Anyone who has entered a contest like this before knows that it's tough to fit everything you want to say into a simplified application. Limiting the essay to 250 words is shrewd, and tells me the organizers know what they are doing. For many people, writing 250 words is more difficult than writing 2,000 words. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then brevity is next to deity. For entrepreneurs, this is great practice for the numerous times you'll be in front of customers, partners and investors with precious little time to make your case.

I spoke with Comcast Public Relations Manager Rob Ponto about the application process to see if I could get local entrepreneurs a few tips, and it sounds like Indy's fast-growing startup community is on the communications leader's radar.

"We know that many tech-savvy entrepreneurs call Indiana home, and we’re looking forward to seeing the responses from Hoosier business owners about the innovative and creative ways they use tech to drive their businesses, as well as how they use technology to maximize their employees’ and customers’ experiences."

Because this is the first year for the contest, there aren't any historical best practices to share, but Rob suggested focusing in on the two tracts — customer experience and/or employee experience.

Here are some additional criteria for entries:

  • Well articulated overview of current business
  • Identifying need that spawned use of technology to enhance customer (or employee) experience with the business 
  • How technology was used to enhance customer (or employee) experience with the business
  • Explanation of proof points that use of technology successfully enhanced customer (or employee) experience
  • How business owner will expand on, or modify planned use of technology going forward

Innovations 4 Entrepreneurs applications are due April 30, and regional winners will be announced by May 23. The regional winners and their respective entries will be posted online for review and public voting. The public vote begins on May 20, 2014 and ends June 1, 2014.

From among the 32 regional winners, six will be named grand prize winners and, in addition to cash and services, will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City, where they and a guest will have the opportunity to receive one-on-one consulting with nationally recognized business experts: Marcus Lemonis, businessman, investor, TV personality and Philanthropist; Robert Irvine, Celebrity Chef and Entrepreneur; Michael Angelakis, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer for Comcast; and Amy Banse, Managing Director and Head of Funds for Comcast Ventures. They will also receive a VIP tour of 30 Rockefeller Center and an awards dinner prepared by Chef Irvine.