Four businesses to compete for $25K prize during final stage of competition on April 17

PMG PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - While some businesses in the SHEDCO business plan competition are just starting up, others are proposing to expand their businesses using the grand prize money. The final stage of the competition will be April 17 and community members are invited to attend. Four finalists competing to win a $25,000 grand prize to start or expand a local business through the St. Helens Economic Development Corporation's Business Competition Plan were announced this week.

Community members are invited to attend the final stage of the business plan competition Wednesday, April 17, when the finalists will pitch their business, give demonstrations, and answer questions from a panel of judges.

This year's finalists are Ascending Optics, a drone service; Hallow's Pizza, a wood-fired pizza truck operation; Running Dogs Brewery, a brewery and restaurant business; and WildFlower Play Collective, a membership-based indoor play and education space for families.

SHEDCO Vice President Amanda Normine said the competition's final stage is akin to the popular TV series "Shark Tank," where business hopefuls pitch their ideas to would-be investors. It's a chance for audience members to learn about the people behind the businesses and to get excited about the possibility of new additions in the community.

"And this is where it's exciting and why we think people should attend. I mean, who wouldn't want to be at a live filming of 'Shark Tank,' right?" Normine said.

SHEDCO hosted its first ever business plan competition in 2015, offering a grand prize of a $20,000 interest-free loan and a $5,000 grant, a breakdown similar to this year's grand prize. The winner of the first competition, Vault Elite gymnasium, recently finished paying off its business loan, making it possible for the next round of competition to take place this year.

Normine said the competition offers a way for aspiring entrepreneurs to access financial resources so they can thrive in the St. Helens community. During the last cycle of the competition, all of the finalists ended up opening businesses in St. Helens, not just the winner, Normine explain-


"We're hoping that no matter who wins, this will have given all of them an opportunity to really open that door," Normine said.

To participate, the competitors had to attend a series of business plan writing seminars hosted by SHEDCO. Anyone who took part had the opportunity to complete a business plan, which could be submitted to the competition for consideration. While some people came to the workshop just to learn, others decided to enter their business proposals into the competition.

A group of judges who have expertise in finance and business development, like credit union chief executive officers and the Columbia County Economic Team, as well as SHEDCO members, selected the top applicants.

Robert Blumberg, Wauna Credit Union CEO and one of this year's judges, said each application was weighed based on the business idea, how well the plan was put together, and each plan's viability. Helping fund a new or expanding business can be hugely beneficial to the local business community, he said.

"I think it's a great value-added for the community to provide a critical resource to businesses that are trying to get going," Blumberg said.

Blumberg was instrumental in helping secure funding for the first SHEDCO competition, and helped coordinate with other credit unions this year to be able to provide the grand prize.

"We all pitched in to make this happen. We couldn't have made this happen without having everyone pitching in," Blumberg said.

Community members are invited to attend the final competition round Wednesday, April 17, at 6 p.m. at Columbia River Reception and Events at Meriwether Place, 1070 Columbia Blvd. Small plates will be provided and a cash bar will be available. A $5 suggested donation is requested to help benefit future SHEDCO programs.

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