VINTON–About two dozen entrepreneurs and small businesses competing in The Advancement Foundation (TAF) Gauntlet competition were able to breathe a sigh of relief this week as they completed their “pitches” to a panel of four judges on April 11 and 12. They also presented their written business plans for evaluation to a separate panel.
The results will be combined to select the winners of approximately $95,000 in prizes.
Participants were evaluated not just on their pitches to the judges, but on the strength and viability of their business and marketing plans and budgets.
All that’s left now is two weeks of waiting until the final results are announced at the awards ceremony at the Vinton War Memorial on April 23.
About $40,000 in cash and $55,000 of in-kind prizes will be distributed that day including, advertising and marketing packages, logo and branding packages, appearances on radio and TV, coaching sessions, memberships in the Chamber of Commerce, videos, website developments, and hours of accounting work.
According to Samantha Lukasiewicz, Director of Civic Engagement for TAF, the prize packages are going to be based on what each business needs, as identified by them during their presentations.
The purpose of the awards is to help launch and grow the enterprises which will all be located in Vinton. A grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development makes up a substantial amount of the cash awards. The HIVE incubation program was selected by Governor McAuliffe as one of only seven business development programs across the state to receive the Community Business Launch grant.
According to TAF founder and president Annette Patterson, “this grant along with generous gifts and in-kind donations from the Town of Vinton, the Roanoke County office of Economic Development, and area businesses combined have created the region’s largest business competition.”
Eight weeks of business class sessions held at the HIVE (Home of Innovative and Visionary Entrepreneurs) Business Incubation Center in downtown Vinton culminated in the Gauntlet competition for the program graduates. The final step was showcasing their concepts for the judges.
Several took advantage of practice presentations with Patterson, Lukasiewicz, and AmeriCorps VISTA member Alex Hemelle in the days before the formal judging. The panel gave them encouragement but also advice on how to modify their pitches to capture the attention and support of the judges during the presentations and to build rapport—basically how to sell themselves and their business concept.
Competitors left with written evaluations identifying their strengths and “opportunities to improve.”
They were given the chance to set up and try out the electronics and props they would be using when they stepped before the official judges in the same space and to identify additional needs that might make their presentations more effective.
The entrepreneurs heard comments from the “mock judges” about the visual components of their presentations, whether they appeared credible, authentic, and organized, and whether all the components of their business plan were evident and included. Some were advised to simplify their Powerpoint screens or modify the graphics.
Some were advised to shorten their pitches, to speak more slowly, to stay focused and not ramble, and to grab the attention of the judges from the get-go. They were reminded to relate their businesses to the economic development of the town since they will be setting up shop in Vinton—to identify how they will positively impact and fit in to the business community and the community at large. They were told to identify their target markets and how they would fill a gap in the community as well.
The Town of Vinton has partnered with TAF in setting up the HIVE program.
“Encouraging an environment for new businesses to get established and thrive in town is exactly why Town Council partnered with the Advancement Foundation to host the HIVE in the Health Department Building,” said Assistant Town Manager Pete Peters. “Council had witnessed similar business incubation centers established in other parts of Roanoke and when Annette approached the administration about creating one in downtown Vinton, it was a perfect fit to compliment the Town’s other revitalization efforts.”
“Vinton has a great history of local business start-ups and the partnership with the HIVE and the business advice and financial assistance that the Gauntlet will provide, will ensure we have many more Vinton-born success stories to continue to fill the Vinton store fronts and provide town residents and visitors with excellent services,” continued Peters.
According to Patterson, TAF is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 to create action-oriented community development programs which leverage relationships across government, business, and nonprofit sectors in order to create mutual wins within the community.
Roanoke County Administrator Tom Gates says, “the success of small business is absolutely vital to the long term economic growth of Roanoke County. While we appreciate the significant impact companies like Ardagh, Eldor and Deschuetes have on our region, we also have to recognize that small businesses contribute greatly to our job base and our overall economy. We have to work to help expand our small business base and to provide them the support necessary for them to prosper.”
That is exactly the intention of the annual Gauntlet competition.
In a letter to the competitors, Patterson said, “The Business Incubation Program and Gauntlet competition is an example of what ‘community’ is all about. With more than 130 advisers, business leaders sharing expertise, and shared resources–this is an economic development ecosystem that is truly sustainable.”
“And what a journey–attending class, navigating the unknowns of business development, sharing your passions, recognizing your challenges, all while operating in the real world of commitments, jobs, children, financial stresses, fear of failure, etc.,” she continued. “In my book your courage, your determination, and your willingness to be vulnerable makes you all extraordinary people.”
The Gauntlet Award Ceremony will be held on Saturday, April 23 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Vinton War Memorial. The public is invited to attend.. Featured guests will include business leaders, government officials including a representative from Governor McAuliffe, and the entrepreneurs. The plan is for all of the businesses to set up displays so the audience can visit them and see what they do.