Local startups have a shot at money and mentorship through the Scott County Community Development Agency’s third Fast-Track Business Challenge, which is now accepting applications.
The “Shark Tank”-like challenge helps entrepreneurs develop a business plan and pitch. Judges select finalists who then compete for prize packages worth thousands of dollars that will help them overcome the low five-year business survival rate, said Jo Foust, development specialist at the CDA.
“It’s a challenge for new ideas,” she said. “We’re always wanting to help drive the tax base and employment in Scott County.”
The challenge is a collaboration with Technology Village, a business accelerator in Prior Lake.
The application process is simple, Foust said. The business must first draft a business plan, after which a business adviser will help create a financial plan. The plans are submitted to a panel of judges. Finalists receive further coaching.
On Oct. 24, judges at a live event pick the winner. Last year, the program had five finalists that each made a 20-minute pitch at the live event.
Application review is set to begin in September, with practice pitches starting at the end of that month. The Oct. 24 live event will take place at the Prior Lake City Hall. Business ideas will be evaluated on the concept, viability and potential to create jobs with livable wages, among other criteria.
Last year, Medthera Inc. of Shakopee won the challenge. The business created the NeuroWalk, a walking-based stationary therapy device, and won $4,000. Prior Lake’s UGO Wear, which sells a floating waterproof phone case, took second. Founders Mel Cole and Vick DeRouchey are among some 30,000 businesses pitching their ideas to the ABC show “Shark Tank” this year.
“The whole experience was nice,” Cole said. “The great mentorship, the people — it was well-organized and well-run. It gave us some added exposure we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Cole said the program even had a lawyer to help with planning.
“It was nice that you had all those people to reach out to through the course of the event,” she said.
UGO’s flagship product, the UGO dry bag, came about thanks to Cole’s and DeRouchey’s life around the waters of Prior Lake.
“I’ve lost a couple of phones to sinking,” she said. “We weren’t satisfied with the products on the market because most would sink or fail. When you’re on a beach or on a boat, you always need something to protect compact electronics.”
Therein lies the key to successfully attracting investors: fixing a problem, DeRouchey said.
Cole said if a business finds a niche and creates the market, the business can set the standard.
“Ask if there’s a need and who is going to need it?” she said. “That’s a big part of it. Is it unique? Is it a completely new category? It takes a lot more educating and a lot more work when you create a new category, but when it takes hold, you become the expert. It’s worth the try.”