These days, it's easier to win the lottery than to score venture capital financing. So it's nice to see a few major corporations stepping up with contests for small businesses. Contests are emerging as a popular, fairly low-cost way for big companies to get people to connect with their brand in social media -- and entrepreneurs come out the winners.
Three contests with substantial prizes are running right now. The main thing to know: Those with video storytelling skills have a definite leg-up here.
Here's a look at the competitions:
Wal-Mart's "Get on the Shelf." I know so many small manufacturers and solopreneur inventors who dream of getting their product into Wal-Mart. Well, here's your chance. The winner of this contest will be featured on Walmart.com and in Wal-Mart stores, as well as receive marketing help and assistance in scaling up production to meet the retail behemoth's needs.
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You enter by submitting a video about your business -- looks like they'd prefer them served up via YouTube. Submission cutoff is Feb. 22, and voting begins March 7. Two rounds of voting conclude April 24.
Staples' "Give Your Small Business the Push it Needs." In this contest, the office-supply giant is offering the winning five businesses up to $50,000 in free television advertising in the form of inclusion in a Staples ad or $40,000 in free advertising and $10,000 in cash each. Winners also get $500 in Staples merchandise and services. To enter, you submit a 15-second video about your business on Staples' Facebook page.
Looks like winners will be the businesses that get the most votes for their video. (Note that you'll need to "like" Staples on Facebook to learn the contest rules. The press release doesn't spell them out.) The submission cutoff is March 14.
Facebook Small Business Boost. Speaking of Facebook... The social-media network has its own contest going on. It is offering $100,000 in prizes -- or, more specifically, up to $10,000 in free advertising to the 10 U.S.-based businesses that can drive the most "likes" to their business Facebook page by April 1.
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There are also smaller prizes. For instance, if you can attract 50 likes to your page before the deadline, you'll get $50 in free Facebook advertising. One hundred likes gets you a $100 ad credit.
Have you seen any other small-business contests? Feel free to add to my list in the comments.