VINTON–The Advancement Foundation (TAF) will be accepting applications online for its third annual Gauntlet business competition through January 28.
According to TAF, they are “seeking entrepreneurs with plans to grow or expand a business in Vinton” to participate in the contest will be awarding $70,000 in cash and prizes.
The competition has benefited greatly from a recent $60,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) “Community Business Launch” (CBL) which will go towards funding its “comprehensive business contest.”
The grant from the CBL will enable TAF to significantly increase the prizes awarded over those given in last year’s event. Last year’s prizes included monetary awards, in-kind awards such as services, office space, advertising, consulting, tuition for business classes, membership in the Chamber of Commerce, and tangibles such as computers and software.
According to TAF, “the Community Business Launch grant is designed to assist communities in taking a systematic approach to defining and pursuing an asset-based small business development strategy. The program starts with a community’s unique vision for its future and then uses a local business competition to find and foster the entrepreneurs that connect with that vision.”
TAF itself is a non-profit organization founded by Annette Patterson who is also its president. It is based in Vinton and operates out of the Charity Cottage Thrift Store and the HIVE Business Incubation Center, both located downtown on Pollard Street—although TAF involves a host of programs and volunteers throughout the region.
An application for the Gauntlet competition may be found online at www.theadvancementfoundation.org. The application is comprehensive. It asks those interested to rate their current money and time management skills, their knowledge of running a business, their problem solving ability, their people skills and their credit score/history.
They are asked to identify what elements of starting a new business they might need help with such as writing a business plan, determining start-up costs, doing market research, making budget/financial projections, securing a location, repairing credit, finding a mentor, buying insurance, building their savings, securing financing, developing a marketing plan, developing products and services, using social media, and dealing with issues of taxation, management, accounting, licensing, and legalities.
There are reflective short answer questions and yes/no questions about what the success of the entrepreneur’s new business would look like and their work skills–being a self starter; having the ability to work independently; having commitment, people skills, honesty, and creativity; having the energy level to work long hours; possessing organizational and time management skills; being able to multi-task; being willing to invest their own resources; having prior business experience; being willing to take extra steps to gain knowledge; having the ability to speak publicly; having networking skills; and being able to handle stress.
The application asks applicants what steps they have already taken to establish their dream and goals—have they written a business plan, do they have start-up funding, and do they have a plan for surviving financially until their business becomes profitable.
Potential business owners are asked why they want to start a business, how long their dream has been in the works, the name of their business and a brief description, the primary products and/or services they will offer, where they plan to locate, their target market, any relevant training or education they have received, and assets they have and will need.
The Gauntlet competition is not for the faint-hearted. Participants make the commitment of completing an 8-week course with TAF and the HIVE Business Incubation Center, developing their business plan, budget, marketing plan, market analysis, and business model. They receive help in determining the viability of their business model and are held accountable for completing each of these major components.
Business classes start on January 28 for the Thursday track and February 2 for the Tuesday track, meeting weekly at the HIVE on Pollard Street in downtown Vinton.
TAF states that, “the business contest itself will function much like an incubator. Throughout the application and contest preparation period contestants will participate in business workshops, receive mentoring from industry and community experts and have access to a variety of business resources. Even the businesses that do not win top prizes will benefit from the system.”
In addition to the weekly two-hour classes, participants work with TAF liaisons and business mentors, who are volunteers from the business community, to develop solid plans. The stipulation of the grant is that these businesses will launch or expand within the Vinton footprint by the end of 2016 in order to qualify for the grant funds.
“We are looking for motivated entrepreneurs to meet this aggressive timeline,” said Denise Mann, Director of Marketing and Resources. “Our goal is to facilitate 10 new business launches or expansions in Vinton by the end of this year.”
“Class participants who are not ready to open their businesses can still attend classes but they won’t all be able to enter the Gauntlet competition,” said Mann. “At the end of class, participants work on sales pitches and polish their presentation for judging rounds in early April. Our judges are community leaders and business owners who give us their time. Judging will be closed to the public, but we will hold a public event at the War Memorial on April 23 to announce the winners.”
Last year’s Gauntlet competition was an all-day open-to-the-public event held at the Co-Lab in Grandin Village.
Classes run through March, including the mentoring services TAF provides outside of class. There’s a $100 fee to participate in the Gauntlet event, which helps cover the costs of holding the event.
More information is available online at the TAF website, on their Facebook page (The Gauntlet), or by calling Debbie Davis who is coordinating the event at 540-283-7062.