By Rieva Lesonsky

87563641Nominations are now open for the 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award. The 24-year-old competition is one of the most prestigious awards out there. Past Ernst & Young winners have included Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Pierre Omidyar of eBay and Jeff Bezos of

In 2009, some 250 entrepreneurs were chosen from over 1,500 nominees to receive this honor. Winners are chosen by a panel of judges that includes civic leaders, academics and small-business owners—including past winners.

Regional winners are announced in June; in November, the national winners are honored. The overall national US winner moves on to compete for the World Entrepreneur Of The Year title.

All regional honorees have a chance to attend the national Entrepreneur Of The Year gala in November in Palm Springs, California. The gala is the culminating event of the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum, a prestigious gathering of high-growth companies. I was at last year’s event and it was truly educational, inspirational and spectacular.

What does it take to be Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year? According to Ernst & Young, winners must demonstrate “excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance, and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.”

You can nominate yourself or someone you know; there is no cost to nominate someone. The deadline for applying is March 19, 2010. For more details about criteria, visit Ernst & Young’s Web site.