Successful businesses identify a problem, develop a way to solve that problem and then sell the solution.
Local start-ups, entrepreneurs or existing businesses in a four-county region have the chance to subsidize those solutions with nearly $5,000 in start-up funds at the Quad-Tank Pitch Competition Oct. 2 at the Quad County Business Summit in Orange.
Held annually, the summit brings together leaders in Orange, Greene, Louisa and Fluvanna to network, learn and develop business throughout Central Virginia.
This year, according to Rose Deal and Phil Geer at the Orange County Economic Development Office, the summit features a business competition modeled after the popular “Shark Tank” television program where eager entrepreneurs pitch their products to deep-pocketed investors and judges.
The upcoming summit competition is styled a bit differently, as local business hopefuls submit a business plan, get coaching from Central Virginia Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Director Betty Hoge where they work on their “elevator pitch” and aim to be among the final three contestants who get to present their idea to a panel of judges at the Oct. 2 event.
“They don’t have to have it all figured out,” said Geer, economic development director in Orange. “It could be a start-up; it could be an existing business; it could be an idea. We want to help find that new product or service in our area.”
This year marks the fourth anniversary of the Quad County Business Summit and the second time Orange County has hosted the event. The initial event was held at The Pavilion at Lakeland Farm, while this year’s summit is scheduled for Madison on the Mill in the Silk Mill complex on Madison Road. Business people, economic advisors and community leaders from across the four counties are invited to attend for free to network and connect and stimulate economic development throughout the region.
The summit is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a free lunch, resource fair and exhibitors, keynote remarks from Halo Top Creamery COO Doug Bouton (originally of Greene County) and, of course, the Quad-Tank Pitch.
Greene County Economic Development Director Alan Yost said entrepreneurs and small business owners attending the summit will walk away “feeling a sense of community that is supportive of their ideas and willing to help them achieve their visions, while taking away some great practical information.”
And those who participate in the pitch competition will find it “a great opportunity to access some start-up cash,” Yost added. “In addition, similar-type competitions have given an entrepreneur the exposure to a large group to springboard their concept, winner or not.”
Potential “pitchers” must have their application in by Sept. 16 to be considered as a finalist for the event. Only the top three will be chosen to make a five-minute presentation to the panel of judges, followed by a five-minute question-and-answer session. Geer will moderate. Ultimately, the winner can use the funds for any purpose related to the pitch, whether it is marketing, research, or whatever, Geer said.
But before any potential “pitchers” get that far, they first must develop their business plan. That’s where Hoge stands at the ready. Consider her their “pitching coach.” Every applicant for the competition will work with her on their business plan, their pitch and their ability to interact with the potential partners likely to attend the fair.
She’ll help applicants refine what their concept is and how to prepare to communicate it.
“There may be someone in the audience—an accountant, graphic artist, someone with manufacturing connections—that can help them on their way,” she said. “This is a chance to get their word out to people who potentially could support or partner with them.”
But even if they don’t win—or make the final three—every applicant will have the benefit of working with Hoge on refining their business plan and participating in a management system that steers entrepreneurs toward success.
Consider that the consolation prize for those who don’t make the finals. “Learning that isn’t a bad thing,” Hoge offers, “and the SBDC will always be a resource. It’s a win-win-win.”
Template business plans exist on the summit website and Hoge encourages people to apply. Geer and Deal do, too.
“This will help them determine if the idea and the business is viable,” Geer said.
And for those who don’t have a new product, service or solution to fix, the summit offers an opportunity to listen and learn. Comedian Brett Leake opens the program with his “Fun gets work done” act, followed by breakout sessions on: talent attraction and retention; social media, local and mobile marketing explained; and business survival.
Following a break for those attending to meet with vendors and local resource providers, Bouton will talk about how he turned an idea in his family kitchen in Greene County into the world’s largest pint-sized ice cream company.
Geer and Deal said Orange County High School career coach Hilary Morris knew Bouton from school and a serendipitous conversation got the business magnate to return to his community to headline the event. Geer will introduce Bouton, ask him a few questions and then moderate a discussion with those in attendance.
Yost, who was principal at Greene County Primary School when Bouton was a student, said, “You never know when someone’s idea is going to hit it big. Doug is an example of an entrepreneur that made his idea a reality. His desire to ‘go for it’ has allowed him to have his cake and eat it too . . . with a big bowl of ice cream on the side.”
After another networking break, the Quad-Tank Pitch Competition will be held, with Bouton, and representatives from Dominion Energy and a representative from the SBDC serving as judges.
“The contestants will need to be accurate, concise and excited about their idea and convince the judges they could make the best use of that money,” Hoge said. “They’ll need to talk about what value their product or idea brings to the community and what problem it solves.”
Following a suitably dramatic break for the judges to make their decisions, the event will resume with a Halo Top ice cream social and the announcement of the winner.
For more information on the pitch competition and the summit, visit www.qcbsummit.com.