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Metro East Start-Up Challenge
Metro East Start-Up Challenge

News - 2016 

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Junior Code Academy is 2016 Metro East Startup Challenge Winner

4 November 2016, 1:30 PM

mesc winners 2016

Junior Code Academy (JCA) grabbed this year’s top cash prize of $10,000 in the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Metro East Startup Challenge (MESC). The regional business plan competition for entrepreneurs and startups announced its three cash prize winners today.

Junior Code Academy has been in operation for one year, and is the brainchild of founder Michael Pedersen. It teaches kids life-changing computer skills.

“By 2020, there will be 1.4 million unfilled computer science jobs,” said Pedersen, whose idea for the business came from teaching his 13-year-old daughter. The cash award will enable JCA to intensify its targeted marketing efforts and expand into additional markets including the Metro East and Greater St. Louis.

The top three teams presented their winning business concepts at the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois Board of Directors meeting Friday morning before a live audience of Leadership Council members and invited guests. The member-based organization includes more than 200 leaders in business, industry, education, government, and labor.

Jam Innovations, founded by SIUE mechanical engineering students Cameron Tanzyus and John Fulton, was runner-up with one of two $5,000 cash prizes. The duo is in the process of patenting its interlocking wheelchair ramp made of rigid polyurethane resin. The ADA-compliant invention is an alternative to expensive wooden ramps or aluminum ramps, the latter of which is susceptible to being stolen. The freshmen plan to use the prize award to complete their prototype.

Grassroots Grocery, an existing Alton-based local grocery, grabbed third place and another $5,000 prize to expand and rent its commercial kitchen to food-based entrepreneurs.

JoAnn DiMaggio May, SBDC interim director and MESC co-organizer along with SBDC graduate student Kaitlin Beasely is thrilled with this year’s level of participation and the quality of ideas presented. 

“I am humbly impressed by the large number of superior quality concepts that were introduced,” said May. “It made our evaluation process and final decision on awarding the prize money extremely difficult.”

Semi-finalists in the 2016 Metro East Startup Challenge included:

  • Drone Zone, James Lawrence and Warren Benning, co-founders
  • EatKidFriendly, Brandon Lance, founder
  • Farmhouse Harvest & Green Market, founders Robyn and Emma Starkey
  • P.G. Shimmer, Jac’qualene Greene and Harold Greene, co-founders
  • Saving Grace Beauty, Erica Harriss, founder

For the third straight year, the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at SIUE, along with strong support from various business and economic development partners, has spearheaded the Metro East Startup Challenge.

The SBDC organized a group of business mentors and startup advisors to assist the 20 MESC contestants with their business plans. For the third consecutive year, PNC Bank and University Park at SIUE were the Startup Challenge’s premier sponsors, and continue to support entrepreneurial activities in Southwestern Illinois. 

Other sponsors included SIUE’s School of Business, St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Leadership Council Southwest Illinois, the City of Edwardsville, the City of Columbia, the Riverbend Growth Association and Artigem. The Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at SIUE and East St. Louis organized and managed the competition with the support of the SIUE School of Business.

“Our goal is to continue to increase awareness and reach of this Challenge’s vast opportunities,” DiMaggio May said. “The Startup Challenge is becoming a recognized fixture in the region’s entrepreneurial community, and the Illinois Metro East SBDC at SIUE looks forward to its continued growth and success.” 

The Illinois Metro East SBDC at SIUE works directly with entrepreneurs and small business owners located in the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph. It is funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville as a service to the region’s entrepreneurial and business community.

2016 Metro East Start-Up Challenge Offers $20,000 in Prizes

August 9, 2016

Entrepreneurs and new business startups are invited to compete in the 2016 Metro East Start-Up Challenge (MESC), Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s third annual regional business plan competition. The Challenge is organized by the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center (SBDC). The purpose of the Challenge is to identify, encourage 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.

Sponsors 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.

“The Metro East Start-Up Challenge elevates the discussion of and support for entrepreneurship across our region,” said Jo Ann Di Maggio May, SBDC interim director. “The interest in the annual Challenge continues to grow with each passing year.”

The 2016 Challenge invites entrepreneurs and startup businesses from four target industries: information technology, manufacturing and health care. For a startup business enterprise to be eligible, it must have been established after April 30, 2012, and be headquartered in the Illinois portion of the St. Louis Metro region (Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties). For pre-venture entrepreneurs, proposed new business operations will need to be located within the same nine counties.

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 expand on their business idea by submitting 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 The entry deadline is Friday, September 9. Semi-finalists will be announced Friday, Sept. 16, with finalists notified on Friday, Oct. 21.

The Challenge will announce its cash prizewinners on Friday, Nov. 4.

For More Information
Contact the Illinois Small Business
Development Center (SBDC)
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