Ready, set, pitch at the Entrepreneurship Center

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Photo by Jessica Bibbee

Though the judges at Washtenaw Community College’s Entrepreneurship Center’s first-ever “Pitch Competition” won’t be nearly as brutal as the ones seen on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” the event is sure to be just as entertaining, exciting, and full of brilliant minds and even more brilliant ideas.

On Thursday, April 21 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Great Lakes Regional Training Center, room 202, entrepreneurs at all levels of education and experience will pitch their business ideas for a chance to win cash prizes, while sharpening their entrepreneurial skills and getting closer to making their dreams a reality. The prizes range from $250 to $1,500.

“If you want your business to be successful, you have to learn how to pitch and sell your idea in a short amount of time to strangers, who know nothing about you or your company,” said Kristin Gapske, manager at the Entrepreneurship Center. “The response has been great with nearly 30 people signing up to participate in the competition.”

There will be three categories: Start, Build and Grow. The Start category is for anyone who is still in the idea phase; Build is for someone who’s been in business for six months or less. Grow is aimed toward those who’ve already established a successful business and have several clients but are looking to take their company to the next level.

Contestants will have three to five minutes, depending on the category, to pitch their ideas to a group of five judges, l comprised of WCC business faculty members, as well as local business owners. To help them better prepare, the counselors at the Michigan Small Business Development Center will provide three group consultations, where they will discuss business planning and what makes the “perfect” pitch. Additionally, all participants are required to attend at least two workshops offered at the Entrepreneurship Center prior to the competition.

“Everyone will have an opportunity to practice their pitch in front of a group of people and receive feedback,” Gapske said. “So much of what we do here is about providing our clients with the tools and resources they need to make their startup a success and this competition sort of ties it all together.”

Canton resident Rebecca Eaddy is still in the beginning stages of starting her business and will be one of the contestants trying to sell her idea to the judges at the competition.

At age 14, Eaddy began studying classical voice and has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago chorus and tour with both New York Harlem Productions and the American Spiritual Ensemble in Europe. She also has ties to the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based nonprofit with a focus on diversity in classical music.

“My business (Cactus Creative LLC) will provide business-related and community-based resources to artists across genres and mediums and will also provide networking opportunities that foster collaboration and creativity,” she explained.

Eaddy pointed out that the Entrepreneurship Center has provided her with direct information, along with a plethora of community-based resources. At the competition, she hopes to gain “knowledge of and experience in the pitch process, while interacting with other business-minded people.”

Shortly before the winners are announced, there will be a mini milestone celebration, where past Entrepreneurship Center’s clients share their successes in an informal pass-the-mic-around setting.

“It’ll be exciting to watch people progress and grow as an entrepreneur,” Gapske said. “Whether they win or not, they’ll learn something. The purpose of this competition is to get to business owners to think more about and narrow down their target market.

“Unlike many pitch competitions, our participants are not required to have a business plan, but the hope is that after the competition, they’ll have a clearer vision of their business and be able to then execute a business plan. This competition is just an extension of the great work the Entrepreneurship Center does and the important role we play within the community.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of On the Record.

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