Carroll Biz Challenge finalists show unique array of proposals

Carroll's own startup competition has its finalists - and unlike last year, most are truly startup companies, not early-level businesses.
The companies are also unique. A muffin company, an indoor trampoline park, a lavender farm, a hyper-local social media website and wearable technology that measures tone of voice are all finalists.
The Carroll Biz Challenge bills itself as a cross between the popular ABC show "Shark Tank" and Fox's "American Idol." In the challenge, five finalists pitch the idea for the business, and the winner walks away with $5,000.
Jon Weetman, administrator of operations and small business for Carroll County Economic Development, was among the judges who chose from a pool of 15 participants.
"It was harder this year than last year, I think partially because we had more startups, so you're looking a little more at potential," he said.
Weetman looks at not only the business model, but whether there is a market for the business, if there is room for growth and how the management will be.

MuffinBomb, which is currently a one-woman show run out of Pinwheel Leister's home, is the closest of the five finalists to already having a business.
Steve Lowe received one of Pinwheel Leister's muffin bombs after his wife had surgery.
He was treated to a mega-bomb: 72 muffins.
Leister bakes muffins and individually wraps them, so they are able to last for several weeks. Lowe said between his five-person family, they ate them all in 10 days.
Lowe, who is now her business partner, said he believes muffins are an untapped market. Lowe is in a niche market himself: cupcakes.
"It's kind of a gift in a new kind of category," he said. "These will last longer than flowers; they'll last weeks because they're individually wrapped. It seems to be a whole new category of gift, a way to appreciate or help somebody out."
Currently there are six flavors, ranging from banana chocolate chip to coconut to orange pecan. The two plan to offer the aforementioned mega-bomb, and also a mini-bomb, which will be 36 muffins and a mortar, which will be a tube with one of each flavor.
If they were to win, Lowe said he'd look to rent a commercial kitchen space for the holidays. They plan to be ready to serve muffins to more than just family and friends soon, he said, and currently have a website in the works.


Stratosphere Trampoline Park
Bryan Zuber, the creator of Stratosphere Trampoline Park, noticed that in Carroll County there isn't a whole lot for kids to do outside of organized sports.
In Eldersburg, where he lives, there isn't a movie theater or a skate park.
That's when he discovered indoor trampoline parks, which are beginning to increase in popularity.
Zuber has purchased a 22,000-square-foot property off Londontown Boulevard to house approximately 11,000-square-feet of trampoline park. Now a year into the process, Zuber is close to opening, he said.
Teens don't have much to do in Eldersburg, he said. Prior to construction beginning at Carrolltown Mall, he said he would often see teens hanging out in the parking lot. The trampoline park could solve the long-discussed problem of a lack of a community center in Eldersburg.
"It's the community that would be supporting my business, so it would be my way of supporting the community," he said. "We don't really have a community center and I think this would be a great alternative."
The building plans include an arcade, a snack shack and a a Wi-Fi area, as well as rooms for parties or corporate events. And, of course, trampolines.
The trampolines aren't like the ones in your back yard though, he said. They are highly durable, customized, heavy-grade trampolines with multiple safety mechanisms.
Once it opens, which he anticipates will be closer to January, kids and adults alike will be able to bounce around the park. He plans on having two dodgeball courts and starting leagues, he said.
The business is expensive - Zuber said it is a million-dollar endeavor. If he were to win the $5,000, he said right now he'd love to just try to pay down some of the startup expenses.
He would like to eventually turn the money into a scholarship program for the employees working there or support local baseball or soccer teams.
"Who doesn't like to bounce up and down on a trampoline?" he said. "It's fun. You don't have to have a particular skill set; it's not like roller skates."

With a rise in popularity for self-tracking devices like FitBit or Jawbone, that measure everything from how many steps a person takes in a day to how deep of sleep a person got the night before, Debra Cancro is hoping to expand the market into something else we do every day: speaking.
Cancro and her husband are developing a mobile technology that can monitor a user's voice, especially around the tone of voice and how they come across.
She said she initially came up with the idea while she was a stay-at-home mom. When she was busy, she would feel guilty for the way she spoke to her children.
"It's more than just guilty moms," she said. "In the long term, a huge market [will be] customer service, to presentation training, sales training - the first market we're targeting is for presentation skills to even use it while they do a live pitch."
Cancro said with a background in both marketing and engineering, creating a high-tech product seemed natural. Don't expect the product soon though - the pair is still in development mode, she said.
The team won a grant with Towson University, and they're helping a team of engineers create measurements and a data set for how humans perceive different voice samples, she said. They've been developing the product for about a year, though it's tough to do without a budget to pay people.
"It's a big technical challenge; it's not easy. For us, it is a very hard product to build technically, and finding talented people who are willing to work for free," she said.
If she were to win she'd like to spend more money on market studies for the product. The pair is looking at private investors this spring, and she'd like to have more research to prove there is a market for the product, she said.
While the microphone would be wearable, the analytics of the data would be viewed from a tablet, smartphone or computer. She said it won't be playing the voice back to you though - it may save examples - but the device would mostly give metrics.
She said with a rise in self-analytics, it validates her theory that people are willing to monitor themselves.
"They're junkies that like marketing themselves. They're the early adopters," she said.


Silver Linings Lavender Farm
Dawn Pritchard, a horticulturalist, went to England several years ago on a trip. While she was there, she saw a different kind of farming than Carroll County's typical corn country: lavender.
She said she was absolutely enchanted. Lavender farms are more similar to wineries than they are typical farms, she said. She intends on having fields of lavender, honey bees, artists inside the building, as well as festivals and opportunities for weddings and events.
Getting the farm started isn't without its troubles, though.
"I can't lease farmland, because lavender is a different kind of crop than regular farm land," she said.
Lavender needs a full year before it produces and because it is a perennial, has a 10-year life. She would have to wait a year before harvesting to create lavender products.
On the plus side is that lavender doesn't require any kind of pesticides or fertilizer. Lavender thrives in dry, rocky soil, she said, and is completely organic. Pritchard grows lavender in her back yard. The horticulturalist has been growing plants for about half of her life.
"It's something I feel I was meant to do," she said.
Starting a farm isn't cheap though, she said. There are a lot of hidden expenses up front prior to even applying for loans, she said. If she were to win, she said she'd use the $5,000 for the hidden expenses, like creating a LLC and joining the Lavender Growers Association.
"In my mind, I see it as some place where people are always at, like Baugher's," she said, referring to the popular agribusiness farm.
Pritchard said she's aiming to purchase a farm in Westminster to open the space.
"You can't wait for the right opportunity. You have to make the right opportunity," she said.

The popular social media website Facebook began before facebook.com. It began with another idea: Facemash, which rated users on a simple "Hot or Not" scale.
Sometimes social media websites begin with an idea before the logistics begin to take shape. IndiThat, a hyper-local social media website has an idea, and a name, but not yet a design.
Luke Fisher, of IndiThat, along with several other partners, is creating a social media website to connect people with their community, instead of the larger outside world.
"There's a lot going on in Carroll County, but there are so many people who don't know things like Midnight Madness," he said, referring to Westminster City's event where businesses along Main Street stay open until midnight with specials for a night of shopping.
He envisions the site will allow users to post events but also have companies post events. It will be category specific, he said.
So, for instance, if a person is looking for the best pumpkin latte in town, they could search and see various shops that have them.
He said the idea was created between himself, Lance Garber, Jason Harder and Duane Martin, who all talked about feeling disconnected with their social media.
"I don't feel connected to the people I'm following on Facebook or Twitter. We really wanted to create something to connect people to their local community. What we envision is something that will take you beyond the computer screen," Fisher said.
He said while the four are still really early in the process, the Carroll Biz Challenge has ignited a fire in them to create the site. He said if they were to win the money, they'd begin creating the language on the site for both the back end and the front end.
It will be different than Facebook promotions, for instance, because it will be so hyper-local, he said. He said if a company "boosts" a post on Facebook, it may show up in people's news feeds, but it's unclear where the people are.
"Are they people in Virginia? They're not going to drive to Carroll County for a latte."
He said he anticipates it's going to be very visually based because of the art presence in the county. It will also be incredibly individualized, depending on the user.
"I think people will appreciate being able to see what's going on around the community. I think businesses will also really enjoy it because they'll be connecting to an audience that's local," he said.