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VOL. 132 | NO. 227 | Wednesday, November 15, 2017

EPIcenter, Little Bird Innovation Launch Business Plan Contest

By Andy Meek

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The local EPIcenter organization, along with research, strategy and design firm Little Bird Innovation, are launching a business plan competition Wednesday, Nov. 15, that’s meant to enlist entrepreneurs in coming up with ways to solve persistent challenges that confront local makers and artisans.

The competition will award $20,000 to winners to help them advance their business idea, in addition to giving them $5,000 in business service support from EPIcenter.

Its banner is the “Operation Opportunity Challenge: Maker Edition,” and it’s launching during Global Entrepreneurship Week, partly as an outgrowth of the Made By Project.

That project is comprised of a survey of more than 300 local makers, artisans and micro-manufacturers, findings from which were released earlier this year. Among other things, it sought to explore data about makers in the region, as well as assets and gaps in the maker ecosystem.

One thing stakeholders heard about from the makers: the ability to source raw materials locally is a challenge. Which is why Little Bird Innovation co-founder Nicole Heckman said those makers end up buying raw materials online from elsewhere, which means they have to pay shipping costs – or they can’t even get the particular material they need, which constrains their product design.

Thus, the need exists for entrepreneurs who can help solve a challenge like this. And thus, the business plan competition.

Leslie Lynn Smith

“The competition is based around the needs that were reflected during the Made By survey of makers in and across Memphis,” said EPIcenter’s president and CEO Leslie Lynn Smith. “What’s holding you back from launching or growing your business? There were a variety of findings during that survey.

“In our constant pursuit of a shift that orients solutions toward real needs in the market, we’re holding a competition to say: makers have these needs in the supply chain across Memphis which we think can be solved by innovators and entrepreneurs creating more entrepreneurial activity.”

Applications for the competition are due in January, then a period of winnowing down and working through entrepreneurs who are chosen for a second round. From there, winners will be chosen in February.

Those winners will work with EPIcenter and its suite of support resources to start laying the groundwork for their business. Or, Heckman adds, it could also be an existing business that recognizes the market opportunity in serving makers and wants to add another aspect to the services they provide.

“Through the course of our research with makers, we came to realize there are certain parts of the system in which our makers are operating that are weak here in Memphis,” Heckman said. “And the best way to fill those gaps and to solve for that weakness is to get entrepreneurs to start businesses that solve for the gaps.

“The success of the maker movement here in Memphis is predicated on makers and entrepreneurs supporting other makers and entrepreneurs. So this business plan competition is really an important first step in helping to stimulate that activity.”

EPIcenter is looking for entrepreneurs who can build businesses around two of the identified solution areas within the Made By Project development plan: addressing needs in packaging, shipping and distribution, and in accessing raw materials.

Over the next three years, the development plan wants to grow the Memphis-area economy in areas that include the number of maker enterprises, especially by women and minorities; the diversity and quality standard of products; the number of micro-entrepreneurs scaling to small- and medium-sized businesses; the demand for skilled workers; and the brand perception of Memphis for makers and creative enterprises.

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