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March 02. 2013 1:54AM

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Starting up the Start Up Challenge


 

News flash: Amid the doom and gloom and sequestration fears, entrepreneurship is alive in New Hampshire.

This spring, Allison Grappone expects to launch Nearby Registry, an online service for independent businesses and nonprofits to participate in e-commerce and local gift registries. It's a twist on the typical registries since it focuses on local companies rather than corporate chains.

It's also just the brand of creative entrepreneurship the organizers of the MYPN NH Start Up Challenge had in mind when the Manchester-based young professionals network founded the statewide competition in 2008.

Grappone, who won the challenge in 2011 and took home $25,000 in cash and $5,000 in services, has been working since to take advantage of the cash and in-kind services she received to develop her company. Participating businesses include traditional downtown shops like kitchen, toy and book stores to services like gyms, salons, music schools, theaters and restaurants, she says.

"Winning the Start Up Challenge brought my idea from paper to the Main Streets of New Hampshire," said Grappone, 33, via email last week. "The grant money helped complete my case to potential investors that my business idea and planning had legs. The additional services helped me navigate first-time meetings with legal and accounting services and set me up for great networking opportunities at the abi (Innovation Hub)."

Grappone is sure to mention that we can follow Nearby Registry on Facebook, of course, or reach her at happytohelp@nearbyregistry.com. Chances are, she's learned along the way from her mentors never to miss an opportunity to get the word out.

Details of the 2013 edition of MYPN NH Start Up Challenge business plan competition will be announced at a kickoff event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the abi Innovation Hub, 844 Elm St., Manchester.

Grappone and other past winners, including 2012 winner Mike Veilleux of Gear Freedom, will be on hand as will sponsors and judges and members of MYPN. Gear Freedom is a rental company for kayaks, bikes or skis that Veilleux likens in approach to FTD. He aims to connect sports enthusiasts with mom-and-pop outfits ready to rent them gear.

"You need to find where the revenue is, where to get your customers and find where you're really providing economic value," Veilleux said at a MYPN event in October.

The competition has awarded more than $155,000 in cash and in-kind services to New Hampshire start-up businesses over the past five years.

"We created the Start Up Challenge in an effort to connect entrepreneurs with seed capital and key services to help them grow and get them on a path to sustainability," says E.J. Powers of Montagne Communications, one of the competition's co-chairs. "It really allows us to help build a stronger economy because a stronger economy helps build more job opportunities and makes it more likely that young professionals will stay here."

Last year, Veilleux received $55,000 in cash and in-kind services. About $20,000 was in cash, and the rest came from service organizations. Sponsors have included Public Service Company of New Hampshire, Dyn, Centrix Bank, FairPoint Communications, the McLane Law firm, accounting firm Howe, Riley & Howe, the abi Innovation Hub and Business NH Magazine. Powers says organizers are still lining up additional sponsors for this year.

The competition is essentially open to anyone in New Hampshire with a great idea, he says. And unlike some similar competitions, the entrepreneurs do not have to give any of their company away.

"Some elements of the judging is like 'Shark Tank,' but there is no Mark Cuban taking any equity," Power says.

The winner is awarded with the resources critical to forming a business, including legal and accounting services and mentorship from entrepreneurs.

"The winner really walks away with a full suite of services and assets, a real toolkit on their path to succeed," Powers says.

To participate, contestants need to send a one- to two-page summary of their business plan to startup@mypn.org by April 22. They also may include a video. MYPN will announce the semifinalists on May 6 after which the group will match them with professionals at the abi Innovation Hub to prepare them for a live pitch event on May 21. The two finalists selected from that meet will present their business plans to a closed panel of judges on June 4.

"That's the 'Shark Tank' moment," Powers says.

MYPN will announce the grand prize winner later that month. But just like the losing contestants who walk way from "Shark Tank" empty-handed and humbled, Powers expects the Start Up Challenge participants to gain wisdom through the process.

"It's been a really exciting opportunity for the winners, but we've heard a lot from semifinalists who had opportunity to hone their business plan and network with people, such as the bankers, venture capitalists, lawyers and accountants who are participating. It allows these participants to really gain some valuable skills and knowledge."

For more information, contact co-chair Powers at (413) 441-4772 or epowers@montagnecom.com.


Mike Cote is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.




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