Entrepreneur. It is defined as a person who identifies an innovative and scalable opportunity, organizes the resources, and creates a successful enterprise. But at the heart of it, what is an entrepreneur, really? Likely, he or she is someone who started off with an idea. Many of us have ideas but aren’t sure where to go or what to do with them. That’s where The Launch Place comes in. The Launch Place strives to foster an environment for new and serial entrepreneurs to raise capital and garner the support system needed to take their products and/or solutions into the marketplace. Beyond this, the organization was looking for other ways to attract creative minds with good ideas. In 2014, the first IdeaFest was held. The event selected 25 entrepreneur teams to present an “elevator pitch” of their ideas to a panel of judges. Participants came from Danville, Pittsylvania County, Blacksburg, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville, as well as North Carolina regions, such as Caswell County, Raleigh and Durham. One participant had even come from California.
In the years since, IdeaFest has only gotten bigger and better. Recently, we sat down with Eva Doss, President and CEO of The Launch Place, to discuss the history of IdeaFest and what we can expect this year and beyond.
Where did the concept for IdeaFest come from?
In 2013, as part of Danville Regional Foundation’s Middle Border Forward initiative, a group of six fellows choose “business” as part of a community development project. The group reached out to various regional business resources including The Launch Place to do a community project with a focus on business. The Launch Place suggested to organize a pitch competition in Danville. The fellows took the lead on the suggestion and the concept of IdeaFest was born. The first IdeaFest in cooperation between the Middle Border Forward fellows and The Launch Place took place in March 2014.
What were some of the steps involved with putting the first event together?
The concept started as a pitch competition but turned into a full day event to foster entrepreneurship and raise awareness of business development resources in the region. We had the signature pitch event, but it also included start-up readiness workshop, round table discussions, and an Entrepreneurial Resource Fair to showcase resources in the region. Recalling the first event, it took about eight months or more to plan the event. There were many planning meetings and multiple brainstorming sessions among fellows to put together the events.
Focus of the Planning: How can we encourage local entrepreneurs to share their idea? How can we showcase the regions to competitors who will be visiting from other cities/towns? What do we want to name it? How to raise funds for the event and prizes? Where to host the event? How to reach out to various universities and colleges to encourage students to share their ideas? Who will judge the competitions?
These were just some of the concerns that needed to be addressed. Under the leadership of The Launch Place, the fellows collaborated with multiple service providers in the region and sponsors in the area to put together the first event. The first event was challenging but feedback and responses from the community was encouraging to continue pursuing and improving the event in future.
What do you hope to achieve through these events?
We want to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship to continue to diversify the economy in the Dan River Region. As the lead entity for entrepreneurship development in the region, The Launch Place has strongly supported IdeaFest and has decided to continue to support the pitch competition. We feel it’s a great event to engage the local community as well as introduce people from other regions to the assets available for entrepreneurial growth here in the Dan River Region.
For entrepreneurs, it’s a forum for them to develop their ideas by pitching their venture to a panel of judges and allows the entrepreneur to receive constructive feedback that will help them grow their new venture. And the best part, the top competitors will walk away with cash prizes to use to grow the venture. Another key part of the event is networking. Entrepreneurs will be able to network with fellow entrepreneurs, future customers as well as investors such as The Launch Place. We follow the companies that pitch at IdeaFest and track their progress for possible future investment from the Pre-Seed or Seed Funds.
What changes do you see coming in future IdeaFests?
We are in the midst of planning IdeaFest 2018 and welcome all input and suggestions to make this year a success.
Who should participate in IdeaFest and why should those who aren’t involved in the contest come watch it?
IdeaFest is truly what it sounds like – “IDEAS” are pitched. Yes, it’s true that questions will need to be answered focused on the business model around the idea, however, the venture can be very early without customers. Eligibility includes the ideas and concepts pitched must be in the initial stages of development where funding to date is no more than $25,000. We want to ensure the ideas that have a solid business model can proceed onto market validation and the prize money awarded to the top competitors can enable the validation to be conducted whether through pilot customers or third party review. Therefore, any entrepreneur that has a venture idea should apply to IdeaFest.
Audience members not pitching a venture, perhaps budding entrepreneurs not ready to launch, will also gain experience of how venture pitches should be structured and they will hear questions the judges will ask participants which gives them insight into how investors are evaluating ventures for investment. Overall the event is educational and has great potential for networking with entrepreneurs, business leaders and investors.
IdeaFest By The Numbers
In the past 4 years:
• Received a total of 257 applications
• Total number of companies that have pitched 85
• Awarded a total of $35,500 to 16 companies
Dates for 2018 Competition:
January 4 – Applications Open
February 13 – Application Deadline
March 29 – IdeaFest Pitch Competition
If you’re interested in an application for IdeaFest, follow this link.
If you would like to register to attend this year’s IdeaFest, follow this link.