Competition: Emerging Businesses Beat Football

November 20, 2013 at 8:04 AM

A winning Carolina Panthers team and a brand new UNC Charlotte football team remind us that athletic competitions receive community attention. While football may generate the headlines, let’s take note of recent business competitions that will actually make a difference in our lives.

Charlotte USA embraces competitions as an excellent way to identify the most promising emerging ideas and companies. UNC Charlotte and Ventureprise led the way a dozen years ago with the business competition known as the Charlotte Venture Challenge. The competition concept is well-suited to entrepreneurial thinking. The community provides a forum for innovators to pitch their ideas. Those ideas are evaluated and the best ones are celebrated and rewarded. All of the participants receive feedback intended to help them either improve their idea or abandon it.

Competitions simulate the real world by selecting winning ideas and delivering the scarce resources of community attention, mentoring, and cash prizes to the teams that have the most potential. At Ventureprise, we think this fits perfectly with our economic development goals.

We attended grand finales last week for two Charlotte competitions. The 2nd Annual Shape Charlotte Business Idea Competition was organized by 20- to 30-year olds who are affiliated with the World Economic Forum (think Davos Switzerland in winter). About 200 people listened to five pitches of emerging ideas including crowdfunding, corporate responsibility consulting, software, and skill set matchmaking.

The winner, selected by the judging panel and by audience vote, was PlateShare led by Katie Levans. This is a charitable micro-giving platform that solicits donations from restaurant diners and directs the cash to existing hunger relief organizations. The concept was initially developed at the January 2013 Startup Weekend where I saw it in my role as a judge. It was great to see the team’s excellent progress culminating in winning $10,000 at Shape Charlotte.

The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce brought a crowd to the NC Music Factory’s Label for the grand finale of its second Power Up Challenge. This competition was open to Chamber members with revenue less than $1 million and substantial growth prospects. Six companies, selected by the Chamber’s geographic chapters, offered their pitches and responded to questions from a judging panel. The variety of Charlotte’s entrepreneurial excellence was on display with the very different finalists: Beverly’s Gourmet Foods, Blue Nano, City Prints, ECampus, International ThermoDyne, and Orange Muscle of America. Blue Nano, incidentally, is an impressive company located at the Ventureprise Ben Craig Center.

I had the good fortune to serve as emcee which allowed me to meet each of the creative, well-prepared entrepreneurs. The voting by the judges and the audience led to the award of $25,000 to ECampus, led by Justin Gaither. Congratulations to the Chamber for its effort to focus attention on Charlotte’s entrepreneurs and to Duke Energy for its generous financial support.

One final observation: both competitions included their 2012 winners in their 2013 judging panels. The continued success of Queen City Mobile Market (Shape Charlotte) and InfoSense (Power Up) demonstrate the value of Charlotte’s competitive spirit. InfoSense, as a Charlotte Venture Challenge winner, is a reminder to watch for the January kick-off of CVC.

- Paul Wetenhall, Ventureprise president

Paul Wetenhall has served as president of Ventureprise, Inc. since returning to the Carolinas in 2008. He has been involved in every aspect of entrepreneurship and innovation since leaving a corporate career in the 1980s to co-found a software venture that commercialized technology from Xerox PARC. His perspective includes experiences as CEO, corporate director (public, private, and non-profit), entrepreneur coach, university lecturer, and leader of efforts to build regional entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Tags: Charlotte Venture Challenege business competitions
Category: Live Blog

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