Innovacorp, Nova Scotia’s technology commercialization agency, is hoping at least 100 companies apply by the Oct. 20 deadline for its I-3 competition, a beauty pageant of sorts of startups in the province.

Shelley Hessian of Innovacorp said the agency is receiving a lots of inquiries about the competition and expects most of the submissions (which are three- to five-page business plans) to flood in in the days before the deadline.

This will be either the third or fourth biennial I-3 competition, depending on how you categorize it. Innovacorp started the competition in Cape Breton in 2005-6, trying to create a sort of American Idol for entrepreneurs on the island. Chad Munro of Mabou-based Halifax Biomedical (You read that right: Halifax Biomedical is based in Mabou) won the competition, which was such a roaring success that Innovacorp made it province-wide two years later.  Like the Breakthru competition in New Brunswick, I-3 has become invaluable in identifying and nurturing good companies.

Two years ago, the Halifax-based tech company Tether won the competition, which had attracted a strong field that included Health Tech Outcomes of New Waterford, Billdidit of Sydney, Xona Games of Yarmouth and Carbon Sense Solutions of Halifax.

Sadly, the 2007-8 winner fell victim to the recession, but the competition that year also unearthed a few enterprises that are now thriving, such as Stack-A-Buoy Marine Products of Arichat, Marcato Digital Solutions of Sydney and Skillz Systems of Halifax. In three competitions, the organizers have received a total 270 entries.

The I-3 competition awards $100,000 in cash and services to winners in five regions across the province, and then another $100,000 to the provincial winner. But its true value as a vehicle for economic development has little to do with who won how much money.

What I-3 and Breakthru do extremely well is drag entrepreneurs past the idea stage and into the implementation of their businesses. It forces them to solidify their business plans, to pitch their business and to work with mentors on moving their plans to the next stage of development.

I-3, by the way, stands for Idea, Innovation, Implementation. The winners are announced in the new year.