How can I protect my business idea before I submit my business plan to financial institutions and other agencies for help?
You have a few options:
Firstly, you can include a disclaimer as an introductory clause, saying that any and all information contained in the business plan and related documents remain the Intellectual Property of xxx (your name) and may not be reproduced, copied or used in any manner without express written consent. This is not legally binding, but usually enough.
Secondly, you could ask them to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which is more binding from a legal perspective. The downside of this is that it can come across as arrogant, especially from someone who is approaching us for help. Personally I refuse to sign any NDA from clients who approach me for help, it just smacks of mistrust and arrogance.
On a final note, good ideas always get copied. If you are that worried that your idea will be stolen, you may need to re-look at it and find ways to make it difficult to replicate, or better yet, make sure you are first to market.