After previous frustrations and months of practice, bookSwap won big at the 2017 Carroll Biz Challenge on Thursday night.
The team, made up of Brandon Cortese, Hunter Metcalf and Dajuan Price, designed an app to help college students connect to sell used textbooks and offer services like tutoring. They hope to spread across colleges in Maryland and eventually go nationwide.
They took home the grand prize, worth $7,500 in cash, plus other prizes — consulting, marketing, retail space and more — that valued at nearly $13,000.
Jason Stambaugh, who launched the Carroll Biz Challenge event, and Jon Weetman, of the Entrepreneur Store, hosted the finale, held at the Carroll Arts Center and presented by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.
Stambaugh said this year's event drew a "record-breaking" crowd. The cash prize was also larger than previous years, boasting a $2,500 increase.
All three of the bookSwap entrepreneurs described winning as "surreal."
They had previously entered two other business challenges with the idea, but were frustrated when they did not win. But in one, the McDaniel College Innovation Challenge, they were named the People's Choice winner, which gave them the extra push to continue developing their product.
"We thought, 'If the majority of people liked it, that must mean something," Cortese said.
"We took a month off, went back to the drawing board and said, 'OK, what is it?'" Price said. "You have to take criticism and use it to your advantage."
Mike Gibble, Michael Goldstein, Josh Kohn, and Amy Wallace judged finalists and selected the grand prize winner while sitting in four slick white leather chairs that dominated the stage.
"You guys are like the Carroll County sharks," Stambaugh joked.
Each finalist had five minutes to pitch, followed by a rapid-fire, 10-minute, question-and-answer session.
Audience members were able to text in questions and the judges, an array of locals with different areas of business expertise, grilled the participants on every detail of their concept.
During intermission, the audience texted in to vote for the People's Choice Award, a $1,000 prize, which was awarded to UpAbove Media, an aerial photo and video company with 3-D modeling capabilities.
The other finalists included Torched Timber, dedicated to custom-crafted burnt wooden items; Arcadeology, a playable, museum-like experience of arcade games; and Ride With Pride, which provides transportation for Carroll countians with disabilities.
The Carroll Biz Challenge was launched five years ago by Stambaugh as a way to support small businesses and entrepreneurs.
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In his opening remarks, Stambaugh thanked the 10-person advisory board that helped winnow the competition's 22 entrants down to the five finalists.
The event was an outing for many including past Carroll Biz Challenge winners, county commissioners and representatives from the evening's 29 local sponsors.
During a cocktail hour beforehand, Habitat for Humanity volunteers manned an open bar. Food was provided by the Kountry Kafe and Gullianova's. Once Upon a Crumb, the 2016 Carroll Biz Challenge People's Choice winner, served dessert during intermission, while Furnace Hills Coffee Co. provided coffee.
Chamber of Commerce President Mike McMullin was happy that the event drew so many community members and brought attention to local small business. He said he is proud to be a part of "a chamber that has the vision to shine a light on the vision of others."