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Yahoo offers up 10 million free ads in contest

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson teams up with the Net giant to select winning entrepreneur who "thinks big."

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Yahoo unveiled a contest for small-business owners on Thursday, offering 10 million free ads on the Yahoo network to the winning entrepreneur who "thinks big."

The Think Big contest will run from April 28 through May 20 and is open to U.S.-based entrepreneurs with fewer than 99 employees that operate a Web site featuring content related to their business, Yahoo said. Entrepreneurs in the adult entertainment, gambling or travel-related businesses, however, are not permitted to enter.

Branson, who recently launched a contest to send ordinary citizens on a trip to space, is no stranger to high-profile marketing campaigns.

"I've succeeded in business with big ideas and big exposure. Virgin started out with only three people and grew to become a global company through unique advertising and marketing opportunities," Branson, who founded Virgin Atlantic Airways and Virgin record stores, said in a statement.

Entrepreneurs who enter the Think Big contest will have their business plan evaluated in a three-round process. The entries will be judged on the novelty of the business and its ability to attract a national audience; the design and navigability of the Web site, as well as its ability to generate and convert traffic into customers; and an essay that offers a compelling business plan that also demonstrates the entrepreneur's knowledge of business fundamentals.

The pool of candidates will be narrowed to 100 semifinalists, who will undergo a second round under the same criteria. Yahoo's Search Marketing representatives will judge that round and narrow the field to five top semifinalists.

Branson will evaluate the five entrepreneurs and select the winner, who will receive 10 million advertising impressions on Yahoo's network.

Eight million of the ads will be on Yahoo sponsored search, and 2 million will be banner ads on the Yahoo network.