A contest sponsored by the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center rewards entrepreneurs for taking a critical first step: writing a business plan.

The Amazing Entrepreneur, coordinated by the SBDC and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, encourages Gwinnett County businesses just starting out to take planning for the future seriously.

“It’s a good logical connection between the SBDC and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce,” said Mark Butler, who leads the SBDC’s Gwinnett office. “This is an opportunity for (entrepreneurs) to really take the process seriously because there’s a prize at the end of it. It subjects your plan to scrutiny.”

The Amazing Entrepreneur is in its sixth year and the SBDC has played a key role from the start, said Mark Farmer, the director of Entrepreneurship and Information Services for the Gwinnett Chamber’s Economic Development and Partnership Gwinnett.

Butler’s team steers clients toward the contest, which offers awards for pre-venture entrepreneurs and businesses that have been open less than three years. The contest forces young businesses to put some effort into planning and it also exposes them to resources like the SBDC’s free consultations.

“Entrepreneurs are always busy people,” Farmer said. “They often don’t take the time to reach out to support services. We get their attention with the contest and they’re more likely to engage with us. They find out about the SBDC, about me and the resources in the area.”

It also gives Farmer a chance to vet the county’s newest businesses. More than once, he’s later fielded requests from larger, more established businesses looking for a service and been able to recommend former contestants.

The SBDC aids participants through the process of submitting a plan and judges the entries. The contest opened on April 1 and entries are accepted until July 8. A pool of finalists make oral presentations to a selection committee before winners are announced at the Chamber’s Pinnacle Awards on Oct. 18. The total prize package for all winners is valued at about $25,000.

“There’s a value to doing a business plan whether you are part of a competition or not,” Butler said. “But when you’re part of a competition, it kind of intensifies their effort, their focus on it and also allows them to gain some feedback.”

Farmer said the contest, which typically draws around 35 contestants, wouldn’t be here without the support of the SBDC.

“It’s been fantastic to work with them over the years, particularly the current team,” Farmer said. “They’re indispensable. I couldn’t do the contest without them. With the team they have, they’re able to handle the volume we get.”