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Carroll Biz Challenge names its seven finalists

A dog sports complex, a miniature racetrack operation, a running shoe store, a hydroponic farming venture, an event planner mobile phone application, an animal fiber mini-mill and a new Montessori school are business ideas that don't seem to have a lot in common, but the seven concepts are the finalists for the third annual Carroll Biz Challenge.

Designed to elicit ideas for start-up businesses, the Carroll Biz Challenge offers a $5,000 grand prize to the winning entry, as well as other benefits and prizes.

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The seven finalists, selected last week, were chosen from among 27 entries submitted.

Applications were accepted until Oct. 19, after which a seven-member Carroll Biz Challenge Advisory Board deliberated before announcing the finalists. Entries were judged based on a rubric that took into account factors including creativity and originality, product and service clarity, market potential, sustainability, and the benefit to Carroll County, among others.

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The challenge finale, which will take place at Cre-a-tv Studios in Eldersburg from 4:30 to 9 p.m. Nov. 20, is open to the public; tickets cost $25 each for the event, or $30 each to participate in a cocktail hour. At the Nov. 20 event, each finalist will give a business pitch in front of a four-judge panel followed, by a question and answer session from the judges.

At the end of the finale, one of the seven finalists will be named the 2014 Carroll Biz Challenge winner and will receive the $5,000 grand prize.

Those in attendance at the event will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite idea and the winner of that judging will receive a People' Choice Award of $500. The Downtown Award, which will be given to the entrepreneur judged to have the best idea for a brick and mortar business designed for a downtown or Main Street area, will be presented the night of the finale as well. That prize is $2,500.

This year's challenge saw a substantial increase in participation, according to Jason Stambaugh, founder and chief executive officer of Startup Local, an organization that supports and provides resources for entrepreneurs. The 27 applications submitted this year was up compared to the 15 entries last year, the event's second. The increase in the number of entries prompted the advisory board to increase the number of finalists from last year's five to seven.

Stambaugh said the genesis was when he began hearing about many similar business startup programs across the country, each looking for the next Tesla or Facebook. He said he wondered why such programs didn't exist for small, local businesses and decided to establish one for Carroll County.

"We are looking for not quite established businesses," he said. "They may be open, but not yet on their feet. Other people may have done some stuff as a hobby but are ready to make it a real business. Any time there is a fundamental shift, we consider that a start-up business."

Stambaugh stressed the organization is looking for truly original ideas. The purpose of the contest is to transform some of the county's would-be entrepreneurs into legitimate business professionals as well as strengthen the fiber of, and add variety to, the overall complexion of the community, he said.

Steve Moore, owner of Run Moore, a running shoe specialty store, is one of the seven finalists. The Westminster resident said that, as a long-time runner, he knew the closest such stores for serious runners were in Frederick and Columbia.

"There is no other running store like this in Carroll County and there are so many runners in the area," Moore said. "I never in my life intended to be a store owner, but there was a niche. Maybe this was my calling, it was what I was meant to do."

He said he heard of the Carroll Biz Challenge through Carroll County Business Path, a business which helps people pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. Man y of the requirements needed to enter the Carroll Biz Challenge for interested entrepreneurs Moore already had met, such as having a logo and an active website.

As for the finale, Moore said he's a little nervous. He said since his store is already open, he won't be presenting a business pitch; instead, he'll be showcasing why his store is a necessity in the area.

"I'm pretty excited, too, and I think it's going to be a lot of fun," he said.

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The prize money, though a fraction of what it costs to start a business, is just one of the benefits of the challenge, Stambaugh said. Publicity and media coverage are essential for any new business, and the event is designed to help with those elements.

Moore said when he first started looking at starting the business in February, he was amazed at the number of organizations in the county that were dedicated to his success. The challenge, Carroll County Business Path and the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, which partners with Startup Local to hold the event, are all tools interested entrepreneurs can use to start their businesses, he said.

"I can't think of any other place that has so many resources and really encourages small businesses like Carroll County," Moore said.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or wiley.hayes@carrollcountytimes.com.

If You Go:

What: 2014 Carroll Biz Challenge Finale

Where: Cre-a-tv Studios, 1332 Londontown Blvd., Eldersburg

When: Doors open at 4:30 p.m. for food and beverages; finale from 6-9 p.m.

For More Information: Visit the event's website at https://carrollbizchallenge.startuplocal.biz/

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