March 4, 2015

The deadline to pitch a business plan in The Big Launch Challenge—for a chance to win up to $20,000 in prize money—is Tuesday, March 31.

The competition invites a hand-selected group of budding entrepreneurs to share their small company’s business plan in front of a panel of judges. The company must have fewer than 10 employees, have a physical product to develop and be willing to locate in the Dan River Region.

The first event will be held at 1 p.m. on May 19, at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research. The first place winner will receive up to $20,000, and the second place winner will receive up to $10,000. Winners receive consultation services from event co-sponsor, The Launch Place, as well.

Danville’s The Launch Place and the Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, First Flight Venture Center will co-sponsor the event again. Since the success of the first event in May 2014, it was decided the partnership would hold the event annually.

The Launch Place president and CEO Eva Doss sees the event as exposure for the community on numerous levels, from investment opportunities to regional assets. She is looking forward to using the event as marketing for The Launch Place, too.

“We want to make it definitely an annual event so the objective is making it more known on the East Coast and I do believe and hope that we will get a wider range of applications from the East Coast,” Doss said.

Marketing for the event will reach larger yet more specific markets. Regional marketing to Virginia and North Carolina will dig deeper to draw in applicants. This doesn’t mean that last year’s turnout was unimpressive, though.

“I was very surprised about the high quality of applications last year for it being the very first,” Doss said. “We had received over 30 applications. Each application could stand on its own merit.”

There’s always room for improvement. One aspect is local participation.

“I would have liked to seen more local applications in the mix,” Doss said. “We’re really hoping we’ll get a more diverse, high quality group of applicants than last year.”

Companies still are required to develop products in nano, information or green technology, alternative energy, advanced manufacturing or materials or media devices. The companies will need to have innovative concepts and products leading to high growth to advance to the top of their field, leading the way to an exit strategy.

Exit strategies may seem like the end to a profit-making venture, but for interested parties like The Launch Place, an existing strategy is the beginning of profits. Doss explained that these new companies are typically bought-out in five years and that’s when The Launch Place gets the return on its initial investment.

Doss travels to judge or watch various business competitions along with The Launch Place staff. From those experiences, The Big Launch Challenge gets put into perspective and improved.

One new element is the addition of two elimination rounds. The main change for this year’s event is how the prize money is awarded. Last year the judges decided how to split the $30,000 between first and second place holders. This year, the award range is simplified.

“The clarity about the prize money is an attractive force but ultimately it shouldn’t be the only,” Doss said.

Thirty one businesses applied to be featured in the 2014 Big Launch Challenge. The first place winner of $15,000 was Larry Dickinson of 3F, LLC. The second place winner of $12,000 was Liz Morris of Sanitation Creations.

Dickinson’s company makes and sells high-performance yarns to companies. The nano-engineered cut-resistant fibers were pitched as the ideal protective glove material.

Sanitation Creations introduced the public to the Dungaroo, an odorless, waterless, easy-to-use toilet for any location. Company founder Morris pitched the item for use in RVs or boats or developing countries.

The 31 applicants were a fruitful connection for The Launch Place. Most all of the applicants went on to investigate the resources offered by The Launch Place, including pre-seed and seed funding.

Morrison reports for the Danville Register Bee.