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December 02, 2016

Ready, set, grow: $51K up for grabs in startup competition

WAYNESBORO — Entrepreneurs looking to start a small business in Waynesboro next year, take note: You could win up to $25,000 in start-up funding from the city’s Office of Economic Development and Tourism.

It’s all part of the office’s annual start-up competition — for 2017 dubbed “The Search: Downtown” — in which would-be business owners compete for a share of $51,000 in grant funds.

But don’t wait too long to apply. Prospective business owners must submit a summary of their business idea by Jan. 17, a little more than six weeks away. Applications will be accepted through that date at GrowWaynesboro.com. Grow Waynesboro is the small-business development initiative run by the Waynesboro Office of Economic Development and Tourism. The program is designed to attract retail shops, restaurants and other small businesses to Waynesboro, especially the city’s downtown.

“Our goal between now and the end of 2016 is to find as many potential entrepreneurs as possible,” Courtney Cranor, assistant director of the economic development office, said. “At this stage of the process, we want to encourage as many ideas as possible. If they want to start a small business in 2017, this is the time to articulate that.”

The $51,000 in grant money is more than double the amount made available in the inaugural competition earlier this year. In that pilot program, 25 entrepreneurs applied, eight made it through to “pitch night,” in which the contestants pitch their business plan to judges, and three were awarded grants of between $6,000 and $8,000, according to Cranor.

Cranor said at least three startups will be awarded grants in the 2017 competition, though more could win, depending on the quality of their business plans and other criteria. The maximum award a startup can be awarded is $25,000.

But the competition could be beneficial to entrepreneurs even if they don’t end up winning a grant, Cranor noted. The applicants selected for the program will take part in an eight-week business planning class and “intensive small business coaching program,” according to a statement from the economic development office.

During that time, the hopeful business owners will have time to formulate their business plan, search for storefronts, network with mentors and the business community, and seek the capital and other resources needed to get their enterprise off the ground.

The final phase of the competition is “pitch night,” in which the contestants will pitch their business plans to a panel of judges. The panel will determine who is awarded grants and how much they will receive.

Cranor said certain priorities and goals will give entrepreneurs an edge in their chance to win a grant. The quality of the business plan, job creation and filling vacant downtown storefronts are two key benefits the panel will look for among the business plans. The ability to open by Sept. 30, 2017, is another.

“The business doesn’t have to be downtown to compete and take part in the business training and coaching,” Cranor said. “But we will give more weight to brick and mortar businesses downtown. That’s definitely something the judges will be looking at.”

Greg Hitchin, director of economic development for the city of Waynesboro, says the competition, like the overall philosophy of Grow Waynesboro, is “comprehensive” in its approach.

“We’re combining top-notch business training with start-up grants to ensure our 2017 businesses have both the capital and the expertise they need to succeed,” he said in a statement.

Grown Waynesboro will offer a preparatory workshop on Jan. 7, 10 days before the deadline to apply for the competition, to assist in the application process. Those interested in the workshop, or applying for the competition, should go to the GrowWaynesboro.com website for more information.