The John Pappajohn Iowa Business Plan Competition is entering its eighth year.

The competition is designed to stimulate business development and provide support for outstanding business plans for new businesses and startups -- those that have been operating for less than four years.

The first round of the business plan competition will take place between March 1 and April 30. During this time, businesses are invited to submit business information via a secure online program called Gust. A link to Gust is available at www.iowabusinessplancompetition.com.

In May, selected companies will be contacted and invited to submit full business plans through Gust. The competition will then be narrowed to seven to 10 companies to present to judges in August. The winners will be recognized at a special awards luncheon on Sept. 26 in Des Moines.

Assistance with business plan entries is available at the Iowa John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers located at Drake University, Iowa State University, North Iowa Area Community College, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa; the Small Business Development Centers throughout the state; and the business accelerators in Des Moines, Red Oak, Spencer, Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Mason City.

Rules, eligibility, timelines and assistance information are available at www.iowabusinessplancompetition.com.

Since 2006, more than $350,000 in prizes has been awarded to startups across the state. This year, a total of $50,000 will be awarded to the top three submitted business plans: $25,000 for first prize, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third.