The creators of a new coworking space cleaned up at a pitch competition held by the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce.
Local entrepreneurs Missy Creed and Sarah Bohl hope to open Campus Coworking by Dec. 1. Judges of the chamber's annual Pitch It & Win It competition thought the innovative idea has the potential to be an asset for businesses in the area. With a new format this year, organizers said companies pitched stronger ideas than in many years past.
Creed, owner of digital marketing startup Dogwood Social, announced plans to open the coworking space in August. This summer, Bohl left a teaching position in the Blair Oaks R-2 School District to take a job as Creed's first employee at Dogwood Social. After that, the pair began working separately on the coworking project.
Creed and Bohl won $5,000 in seed funding from local small business financial services-firm Rural Missouri Inc. Bohl said it felt great to have people validate the idea.
"When it's your own idea, you get really invested in it," Bohl said. "But then to have outside people think it's a good idea as well is always beneficial."
This year, the chamber introduced a new format to Pitch It & Win It to draw more attention to the event and to draw stronger ideas from entrepreneurs. First, the chamber moved the event to coincide with its annual Business and Lifestyles Expo, which took place Wednesday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel. Second, the chamber vetted all ideas beforehand.
Shaun Sappenfield, Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce existing business manager, said 11 companies applied to participate. Of those, the chamber selected five finalists to pitch their ideas during the event. Sappenfield said this led to a much stronger competition.
"You vetted out some of the startups that just didn't have their business plan together," he said. "All of them are more or less up and running or close to (running)."
Rural Missouri Inc. Executive Director Zola Finch served as a judge Wednesday. Finch also judged the competition in previous years.
"The pitches were stronger. They were better organized. They were more professional," she said.
Five startups in various states of organization pitched to Finch and two other judges. Four of the ideas were tech-focused or geared toward helping entrepreneurs build businesses.
Linda Landon owns Research Communiqué, a startup that provides research for small businesses in Jefferson City and Columbia. Landon hoped to use the money to purchase access to new web-dashboards.
Local entrepreneur David Frahm plans to launch SK8 Plan, a startup which allows figure skating coaches to schedule lessons and send invoices through the platform. Frahm said he interviewed more than 200 figure skating coaches to see what they want in a scheduling platform. Apps on the Google Play Store, Apple's App Store and a web-app will be rolled out in the coming weeks, Frahm said.
Over the past year, Brett Welschmeyer developed his idea for M3 Labs, a maker-lab which will give Jefferson City residents access to technology and tools they would not otherwise be able to afford access to. The shared space will give people a place to build prototypes for ideas, Welschmeyer said.
He began the project about a year ago and hopes to open M3 labs in its space near Dunklin and Madison streets in mid-November.
"If people can't afford expensive equipment or the technology to learn, then they can use our space to learn and help develop what they want to develop," Welschmeyer said.
Rita and Jeff Huff cooled off the room with their idea for an Italian ice business.
The Huffs already operate RJ's Real Italian ice from a cart. The couple owns a commissary where they make Italian Ice from scratch in flavors like strawberry, blue raspberry and peach. Jeff Huff said the couple hoped to put the $5,000 toward the cost of buying a food-trailer that could enhance their business.
Sappenfield said the chamber will offer support to the companies that did not win and he hopes they will participate in Pitch It & Win It next year. Finch and Sappenfield said they were encouraged by the recent emergence of the entrepreneurial community in Jefferson City. Sappenfield hopes spaces like Campus Coworking and M3 Labs will be able to flourish.
"Two or three years ago, when you would've asked me about this, I would've been willy-nilly about," Sappenfield said. "But understanding that you have a lot of people that like this atmosphere, I think it can take off."