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Four Contests Offer Small Businesses Cash, Mentoring

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If money is tight at your small business, I've got one word for you: Contests. The number of business competitions that offer substantial cash prizes has been booming in recent years.

While some contests require your business to create something -- a new product, design or software app -- some just ask for an essay or video-entry. Present a creative idea, and you might take home up to $25,000 in the current crop of contests.

Here are details on four contests underway right now:

Tax-software giant Intuit has two contests running through May 1 that offer prizes of $5,000 each. "Small Business Productivity on the iPad" seeks the best application for making tablet-PC devices such as the iPad more productive for small business owners. The "Mobile Payments With QR Codes" challenge seeks a scannable printed bar code smart phones could use to read invoices and pay bills.

As you might guess from this list, major corporations are big players on the contest scene. They're a form of marketing for the companies that put on contests and also a cost-effective way to review ideas from outside the company walls, says Intuit Manager of Open Innovation Susan Harman. In the past, Harman says, Intuit solicited ideas from the public, but without any defined goals. The company is moving away from this type of "undirected innovation" to create contests aimed at specific problems.

"Now we're saying, 'Here are our needs, and we want responses,'" Harman says.

"Facebook Big Break for Small Business" -- Fill out a questionnaire about how your business would use $20,000 and upload a few pictures at American Express OPEN's Facebook fan page, and you could win the dough and a chance to attend a two-day business bootcamp at Facebook headquarters. Judges -- including frequent Entrepreneur contributor Guy Kawasaki of Alltop -- will pick 10 semi-finalists, and then fans will vote on five winners to receive the money and bootcamp trip. Contest ends May 20.

"Where Will .com or .net Take Your Business?" -- This essay-and-video contest from the online-security company VeriSign will award one $25,000 prize for the most interesting entry. Submit your ideas at DotComForSmallBiz or DotNetForSmallBiz. More than 800 entries are already in, and the contest ends May 31.

Seen any other interesting small-business contests? Feel free to add them in the comments.

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