There is a retail revolution  underway. From manufacturing (3-D printing) to shopping carts (flash sales), payment (Square ), and fulfillment (Kiva's mobile robots ), there have never been more ways to take a new product straight to market. One innovator that excels in the shopping cart and payment sphere is Shopify , an online store building system used by more than 25,000 companies including Pixar, Tesla Motors, and GitHub.
So when Shopify approached me a few months ago about partnering with Fast Company for the 2012 Build-A-Business Competition  it was an easy call. What I like about this competition is that instead of rewarding a startup based on its potential for success, this race is won by passionate entrepreneurs who best take advantage of those four pillars of retail to sell a new product.
It helps that we've already written about the winners from the first two competitions, DODOcase  and Coffee Joulies , and other Build-A-Business companies. Coffee Joulies, which is expecting a million dollars in sales this year, is 100% designed and manufactured in the United States--including the raw materials--and assembled in a factory in upstate New York. (Recently we explored what "Made in U.S.A. " means for many companies these days.) The company has no investors, and no full-time employees except the two founders, who are both under 30. Fast Company will be writing about interesting Build-A-Business companies like theirs throughout the course of the competition.
Here's what you need to know about how the competition works.
There are four verticals:
- Gadgets and accessories
- Fashion and apparel
- Art, design, and home
- Everything else
Each vertical has a mentor who will answer questions, post video tutorials and be actively advise contestants throughout the competition. Tim Ferriss of the 4-Hour Workweek oversees gadgets, Fubu president and CEO Daymond John advises the fashion companies, Swissmiss and Tattly founder Tina Roth Eisenberg works with the design entrants, and Lean Startup leader Eric Ries will pitch in for everyone else. Fast Company has written about all of these mentors at one time or another, which is another reason this competition felt like a good fit.
Enter Here 
The store in each vertical with the highest gross sales for any two months between August 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013 wins the grand prize or $50,000. Each vertical will have a winner. The prize is a $50,000 investment from the mentor in exchange for 5% equity, or the contestant can opt to take the winnings in cash (go to Shopify's site to read the complete rules). On top of that, there will be a trip to New York City to meet with all four mentors, and a $20,000 Google Adwords credit. And there will be scads of mini-competitions along the way that will give contestants a chance to win prizes large and small.
Finally, the winners will be written about on Fast Company, and get an hour-long meeting with me to brainstorm ways to pitch stories about their company. That's also a chance to convince the editors here that the company deserves a shout-out in the print magazine.
There is one requirement: Your business must be brand new, and use the Shopify platform for sales.
Okay, that about does it for this spiel. Now: Get ready, get set ... build!
[Image: Flickr user Nate Bolt ]