By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Fledgling entrepreneurs have a window of opportunity to get their business’ name in front of a large audience, but the window is closing fast.
New business startups are invited to compete in the 2016 Metro East Start-Up Challenge, the third annual regional business plan competition organized by the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
At stake is $20,000 and an array of in-kind professional services. The entry deadline is Friday, Sept. 9. Semifinalists will be announced Friday, Sept. 16, and finalists will find out whether they’ve made the cut on Friday, Oct. 21.
The Challenge will announce its cash prizewinners on Friday, Nov. 4.
Jo Ann Di Maggio May, SBDC interim director, said the Challenge is intended to identify and support entrepreneurs and business startups across the SBDC’s nine-county service area.
The first-place winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize. Two runners-up will receive $5,000 each. Prizewinners will also receive an array of in-kind professional services.
“The first year we had over 30 applications. Last year might have been a little under that, so I expect about the same (this year), although I hope for a little bit more. We’re always trying to bring in more partners and resources — spreading the word so we get the interest from the whole region,” Di Maggio May said.
The prize winnings are down by $5,000 overall from last year, the result of budget tightening, but the free advice the businesses get might be the most important thing.
“We’ve got the mentorship program we’ve put in place. The Leadership Council (Southwestern Illinois) is going to be huge again this year, with mentors and resources. Even if they don’t win, as I always say, they get a lot of value out of it,” she said.
Winning the Challenge means a lot to the businesses that have done so.
Monroe County and Columbia/Waterloo have been huge winners in past years, she noted. Stumpy’s Spirits Co., a distillery (Columbia) and The Stubborn German Brewery (Waterloo) have both taken off after finishing highly in past years of the Challenge.
Another that has done well is Old Dutch Bats in Swansea, a manufacturer of vintage baseball bats for play by 19th century rules, which won in 2014 and took the $10,000 top prize.
Last year’s overall winner, though, might have gotten more recognition than anyone. Pacidose, a pacifier-type product used to administer medication doses for infants, was coming off a big win of an Arch Grant in St. Louis when it took the $15,000 first-place award in the Metro East Challenge. The company, operated by Dr. Agnes Scoville, of St. Louis, went on to win a national $10,000, third-place InnovateHer competition in Washington, D.C.
Sponsors of the Challenge include the SIUE School of Business, PNC Bank, St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, the cities of Edwardsville and Columbia, RiverBend Growth Association, University Park at SIUE and Artigem. SIUE’s School of Business, the SBDC’s host organization, will assist with facilitating the competition.
Entrants are invited from four target industries: information technology, manufacturing, health care and sustainable food.
For a startup business enterprise to be eligible, it must have been established after April 30, 2012, and be headquartered in Illinois SBDC area — Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe or Randolph counties. For pre-venture entrepreneurs, proposed new business operations will need to be located within the same vicinity.
The Metro East Start-Up Challenge includes three rounds, beginning with a brief questionnaire and executive summary submittal that is open to all applications that meet the eligibility guidelines. Participants selected for the second round are invited to submit a full business plan. The last round is the “final pitch” in front of a panel of business experts.
For more information on the 2016 Challenge or to initiate the application process, go to siue.edu/metroeaststartup.