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Business challenge now taking applications

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Contest will award prizes to those with the best ideas for a new business, or expansion, in Grayson

By Shaina Stockton

INDEPENDENCE — Applications are now being accepted for the Mount Rogers Business Challenge, a new venture geared towards growing and supporting local businesses in Grayson County.

The challenge is a competitive process that will award more than $20,000 in business investment grants for entrepreneurial ventures and existing businesses looking to expand with additional job creation in Grayson County, with a focus on the Mount Rogers district.

Participants will attend entrepreneurial-focused classes consisting of business training, networking and a pitch night, where they will not only have the opportunity to compete for grant incentives, but they will also acquire the necessary skills and tools to succeed in their business ventures. At the conclusion of the training sessions, participants will submit a written business plan and present their ideas to a panel of judges.

The program was brought to the attention of the Grayson County Board of Supervisors last month, when grant incentives totaled $10,000. Mandy Archer of the Blue Ridge Crossroads Small Business Development Center (SBDC) told the board that the project would hopefully “elevate, generate, activate and accelerate” small businesses. “We are inviting entrepreneurs who are looking to start a business, or looking to expand, to participate.”

Following a presentation of the program, the board agreed on the spot to match the total grant funds, which doubled the incentives for participating businesses.

Now, with twice as much money to work with, the SBDC plans to give the following awards to 12 participating businesses in the program: a $10,000 first prize, a $5,000 second prize, a $2,500 third prize and a $1,500 fourth prize.

Additionally, $100 will be given to representatives of up to 12 businesses. To qualify for this money, participants must attend all classes and workshops, including pitch night (emergencies will not count against participants); provide a completed business plan; and intend to locate their business in Grayson County. This award does not require the participant to be a winner of the incentive grants.

More than one person from a business venture is allowed to attend and participate in the challenge. However, only one person from each business will be eligible for the attendance award. At least one person from each business venture must be in attendance each night in order to be counted as present.

Archer notes that other sponsorships or incentive grants may become available in the future.

The challenge will mainly focus on businesses that are related to outdoor recreation or tourism. Eligible business categories include outdoor recreation, sporting goods stores, arts and culture, specialty food stores, apparel, gift stores, furniture and home decor, restaurants or support services for any of the above.

“If your business doesn’t fit into any of those categories, though, please still apply and show us why your concept is needed,” Archer said.

Other program requirements include:

• Participants must be 18 or older, and either a U.S. citizen or legally allowed to work in the United States.

• Applicants will be the full-time proprietor of the business.

• Applicants must be willing to set up their business in Grayson County.

• Business concepts must fit into one of the defined categories, or applicants must explain on the application why their concept is needed in the area.

• Applicants must be able to attend all classroom sessions unless an excused absence is granted by the steering team for extenuating circumstances.

• If awarded prize money, applicants must be ready to open their business by April 30, 2016.

• The idea or business concept must be the original work of the applicant.

• The winning businesses will be tracked for three years to assess the success of the program. All winners will be required to provide business and financial information to the SBDC on a quarterly basis.

• The Steering Team has the sole discretion to disqualify or remove any candidate for any reason deemed appropriate before or during the program.

• The businesses for the top three awards will be expected to be open until 6:30 p.m. at least five days a week.

Applications are due Sept. 16, with classes beginning Sept. 29 at the Grayson County Courthouse. Class times are 6-9 p.m. each week, and will last through Nov. 10, with an awards ceremony to be held Nov. 24.

The challenge is sponsored by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Mount Rogers Planning District Commission, the Grayson County Board of Supervisors, the Grayson County Economic Development Authority, Grayson County Tourism, Manna Graphics and the Blue Ridge Crossroads Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

For more information, visit mountrogersbusinesschallenge.com, or contact Archer by calling (276) 236-0391 or (276) 233-8731, or email challenge@brceda.org.