A look at the people behind the numbers in area business:

Melissa Kjolsing Minnesota Cup

Title: Director

Age: 29

As director of the Minnesota Cup business competition, Melissa Kjolsing is looking to help entrepreneurs — especially women — vie for prize money and make connections.

One goal is to encourage women to think bigger in launching or expanding a business, said Kjolsing, who is in her second year as director of the Minnesota Cup, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Women own 30 percent of firms nationally, but those firms account for less than 7 percent of total employment, Kjolsing said, meaning that many are one- or two-person operations. Similarly, about a quarter of the entries in the Minnesota Cup have been from women.

"We have fantastic women judges and mentors involved in the program who want to see a boost in female entries because they see the value in it," said Kjolsing. In March, she organized an event to make past and prospective female participants aware of the support, resources and networking opportunities the competition affords. Since 2009, Kjolsing noted, finalists have raised nearly $75 million from investors.

The competition also has increased prize money to $300,000 and added a category — food/agriculture/beverage — intended to appeal to entrepreneurs in Greater Minnesota.

The competition is free to enter and state residents have until May 9 to submit entries. For information and to enter, visit the Minnesota Cup at www.breakthroughideas.org.

Kjolsing, who has a communications degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato, also is the assistant program director of the Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

Q: Why do women not start businesses at a greater rate?

A: Women tend to think, "Am I ready?" During the March event, a panel of two past winners, Marie Johnson of AUM Cardiovascular and Julie Gilbert Newrai of PreciouStatus, plus Carla Pavone, a senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota, said you're never going to feel that you're ready. Starting it is the biggest step, but you're going to find a lot of champions who are going to raise you up and want to see you succeed.

Q: Why should an entrepreneur consider the Minnesota Cup?

A: The judges and the mentors that we have, a huge percentage are investors, so having that exposure to the investment community is huge.

Q: What appeals to you about working with entrepreneurs?

A: My professional career started at the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota. What intrigued me and got me so excited about my job was seeing what was to come in the future of business and innovation and exciting, life-changing technologies.

If that doesn't put a skip in your step, I don't know what does.

Todd Nelson