Contest gives area entrepreneurs a chance to win $5,000 for firms

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — Small business owners in the Shenandoah Valley will be pitted against each other during the Regional Entrepreneur CafÈ event in an attempt to claim a $5,000 prize to aid their companies' growth.

The competition is similar to the Shark Tank television show, in which entrepreneurs vie for investments from wealthy investors.

The Regional Entrepreneur CafÈ drew 18 participants — including four from Front Royal and Warren County — who paid a $50 entry fee, said Marla Jones, director of marketing and business development for the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Authority and one of the organizers of the contest.

To qualify for the event, entrepreneurs had to be in business for one year and operate in Frederick, Clark, Warren, Shenandoah and Page counties, the City of Winchester or the Town of Front Royal.

"It's not so much about each individual, small community. It's about creating a regional brand. We want every small business in the Northern Shenandoah Valley to know that they have an opportunity to plant their seed and grow here in this region," Jones said.

The competing businesses include a farm product producer, a language development professional, an organizational professional, an adventure organizer, a maid company, a cake and candy company and a small information technology firm.

Business owners must complete six classes at Lord Fairfax Community College on topics such as taxes, licensing, legal and accounting issues, marketing, e-marketing and social media.

After the classes, they must develop business plans that will be reviewed by a panel of judges who will select three to five finalists.

On April 19 at 6 p.m. at the Corron Center at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown, finalists will present the judges with an elevator pitch and a winner will be chosen based on the
plan and presentation.

There will be a $10 entry fee for the audience, which will vote on the best business. The winner of the audience vote will receive money collected from the entry fees.

"We're inviting the entire region to come witness ... the finalist give their final pitch about their business, their need, their hope for expansion," Jones said.

Fundraising for the event started in January, and there is a long list of sponsors, including: Bright Box, First Bank, Dish/Via Satellite, Valley Health, Aire Serv, Joe's Steakhouse, Clarke County, LD&B Insurance, InterChange and Symbnex.

In addition to the $5,000 prize, the winner will receive a marketing package worth about $3,000, Jones said.

"They have to have a product or a service that they need in order to take their business to the next level, and thatís what we will pay for. Weíre not just going to hand off $5,000 in cash," Jones said.

The idea for the Entrepreneur Cafe originated from a local version of the event held the previous two years by the Front Royal Chamber of Commerce Small Business Committee.

"A couple of us from the committee decided, well let's take this to the region and see if we canít get a broader audience, a broader group of participants," Jones said.

Jones said part of the reason eventís rollout has been successful is due to the coordinated effort between different communities. She said Virginia and the federal government have recently encouraged regional partnerships.

Jones added The Entrepreneur Cafe is not just about any individual county or town, but their places in the larger community, "because a rising tide lifts all boats."

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