From Illinois Business Journal news services
EDWARDSVILLE — The Metro East Startup Challenge is back for a second year — and the top prize is bigger.
Patrick McKeehan, director of the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, announced the event at a Godfrey gathering this week.
"On (Tuesday) I had the pleasure of announcing the 2015 Metro East Startup Challenge at the Opportunities for Local and Regional Food Conference in Godfrey. Announcement of this year's regional business plan competition at a gathering of 'foodpreneurs' was very appropriate since the MESC's goal is to encourage and support business startups across a number of growth industries, including the all-important food sector," McKeehan said.
The Challenge has expanded in size, scope, and depth, to include:
- Participants in this year will vie for $25,000 in guaranteed cash prizes - a $10,000 increase over our first year;
- The 2015 Challenge will expand its industry targets — manufacturing, information technologies, and heath care — to include sustainable food. All four of these key sectors have the ability to generate significant impact, economically sustain communities, and improve quality of life in our region;
- The Challenge continues to add supporters and expand its reach. This year's participants will have the opportunity to match up with a local business mentor to benefit from their experience, advice and connections. The Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois, in cooperation with the Greater Belleville Chamber, has agreed to organize a Metro East Mentors pilot program in support of the Challenge and, potentially, to support startups in our region throughout the year.
There has been increased interest by entrepreneurs inside and outside of the region. The recently completed Highland Gigabit Challenge received "a surprising number of international applicants. We anticipate and welcome the same level of interest," McKeehan said.
This year's Metro East Startup Challenge will officially kickoff at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, April 29. Entrepreneurs and startups (less than three years in business) will get the chance to submit their business concept on-line for full consideration and extensive support. Three competitive rounds and four months later, the Challenge will conclude on Friday, Sept. 4th with a public announcement of the 2015 winners.
Sponsors will again include PNC Foundation, University Park at SIUE, St. Louis Regional Chamber and the SIUE School of Business.
"All of this wonderful support should not be limited to only these partners. We need all Metro East community/economic development organizations, business service providers and financial institutions involved to create a strong entrepreneurial culture within our region," McKeehan said.
People can get involved by contacting the Illinois Metro East SBDC at (618) 650-2929.
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A vintage baseball bat manufacturer and a grain-to-glass distiller captured first and second place in the Metro East Startup Challenge, the first regional business plan competition conducted for entrepreneurs in Southwestern Illinois.
Plucked from a diverse array of Metro East startups, sole proprietor Todd “Dutch” Eschman, founder of Old Dutch Classic Bats in Swansea, nabbed the $10,000 first prize. Eschman’s firm manufactures custom baseball bats for vintage baseball players, those who wear period reproduction uniforms and follow the rules and customs of the game as it was played in the mid-to-late 1800s.
Adam Stumpf, president and CEO of Stumpy’s Spirits Co., secured second place and $5,000. The start-up distillery is located on the seventh generation family farm in Columbia. The distillery will produce spirits using grain produced on the family farm.
University Park at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville sponsored the event, with PNC Bank and the St. Louis Regional Chamber serving as award sponsors. The SIUE Metro East Start-Up Challenge is designed to recognize and reward excellence in entrepreneurship.
More than 30 innovative entrepreneurs from the Metro East Small Business Development Center’s nine-county service area competed in the three-stage event. Entrants submitted their initial applications in mid-February. Fifteen semifinalists were invited to submit full business plans which were evaluated by a team of ten volunteer judges.
Six business teams were selected to make a final presentation. Over the past several weeks, SBDC staff provided workshops and individual counseling support to help the contestants prepare for the final two rounds of competition.
On Monday, April 28, the finalists delivered three-minute pitches to a panel of expert judges followed by five minutes of questions and answers. The winners were announced in front of the live audience.
The competition judges were John Navin, interim dean of the Business School at SIUE, Mitch Meyers, partner in The Proof Agency and SIUE Foundation Board member, and Jay Delong, vice president of New Ventures and Capital Formation at the St. Louis Regional Chamber.
Jim Pennekamp, executive director of University Park, said the caliber of entrants in the inaugural competition was impressive.
“Entrepreneurship is a key economic development strategy” said Pennekamp. “SIUE is providing leadership and support for entrepreneurs while advancing the academic mission of the University by strengthening relationships with private enterprise and expanding learning opportunities for students and faculty.
“We’re delighted with the response and with the quality and creativity of those who competed. Congratulations to our winners, and to all six finalists.”
Other finalists who presented at the live round included: Working Class Benefits LLC (Joseph Culver) in Granite City; BonafID Catch (Joan Stader and Charles Murphree) in Alton; Vet Check-in (Joe Wayman) of Highland; and Broadway Billboards (David Lindsey) in Maryville.
Patrick McKeehan, director of the Metro East SBDC with offices in Edwardsville and East St. Louis, said the competition successfully met its four goals.
“We worked extremely hard to increase the region’s interest in and excitement for business start-ups through a competitive process,” McKeehan said. “We also identified ‘high-impact’ start-ups for possible location in University Park’s new Business Enterprise Center.
“We sought to generate a greater awareness of the Metro East SBDC’s services as well as the wealth of resources for entrepreneurs and small business owners across our region. Thanks to University Park at SIUE, SIUE’s School of Business, our award sponsors, supporters and competitors, we accomplished those goals. We look forward to making this an annual competition.”
The SBDC is a service to the community supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the Illinois Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the SIUE School of Business.
SIUE operates two Small Business Development Centers and the International Trade Center. All centers provide resources and information to entrepreneurs, business owners, small business service providers and the University community located in the Metro East region which includes Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties.
By assisting entrepreneurs and companies in defining their path to success, the SBDC network positively impacts the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs and encouraging new investment. It enhances the region’s economic interests by providing one-stop assistance to individuals by means of counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses. When appropriate, the SBDC strives to affiliate its ties to the region to support the goals and objectives of both the SIUE School of Business and the University at large.
Photo: Jim Pennekamp, executive director of University Park at SIUE, presents the Metro East Startup Challenge winner’s check to Todd “Dutch” Eschman, founder of Old Dutch Classic Bats.