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.