New pitch contest giving startups the stage

Score-SoloTo celebrate its 50 years of helping young companies, a local business mentorship group has hatched a startup competition.

Score Richmond, along with Virginia Biotechnology Research Park, began accepting applications last month for Scorecard, a competition that will dish out a total of $8,500 in capital and free office space to fledgling companies early next year.

The contest is restricted to for- and non-profit companies based in the Richmond area that have been in business less than two years and have not won a business competition. They can be in any industry.

“We don’t have any limits on what kind of business it is,” said Art Mattox, one of dozens of volunteer mentors in the group.

The grand prize for the contest is $5,000 and free office space at the Richmond Times-Dispatch building on East Franklin Street. Second place gets $2,500, and third place gets $1,000. It costs $50 to apply, and the deadline is Dec. 30.

Art Mattox

Art Mattox

Score is a national organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The Richmond chapter is one of 300 around the country and consists of about 45 local volunteer business mentors. Score Richmond gets its funding from the national branch and through business classes it puts on. Mattox said the organization has mentored 400 new businesses in 2015.

Business mentors at Score have an array of expertise in industries like accounting and government contracting. Mattox said about half of the mentors are retired and the other half are employed or own their own businesses. Mentors go through an application process and training. Mattox, for example, has an MBA from Harvard and has been a mentor for five years. He previously worked for International Paper and had a business of his own.

Mattox said the business competition is a way of commemorating Score Richmond’s founding in 1965 while putting a spotlight on fledgling companies.

“Getting the kind of challenge from a competition makes them better at succeeding,” Mattox said. “Whether they win or not, the whole process is challenging and rewarding.”

Applicants will be vetted by a group of judges that includes Jay Markiewicz of VCU School of Business, Dale Lachniet of Berkshire Hathaway, Todd Nuckols of Lighthouse Labs, Beth Bettley of EVB and Carrie Roth of Virginia Biotechnology Research Park.

Mattox said the judges will be looking for companies that have the best plans for growing revenue and profits.

The first step will be written presentations looked over by the judges. Applicants have the option of getting guidance from someone at Score for the application process. From the first pool of applicants, six semi-finalists will get the chance to do verbal presentations, and three finalists will present to the judges on Feb. 25 at the Virginia Biotechnology Research Park at 800 E. Leigh St. downtown.

Scorecard enters a busy field of startup competitions in Richmond. The Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce’s annual i.e. Startup Competition gave away more than $20,000 this year, and Lighthouse Labs, which selects a class of startups each year, gave $20,000 to six companies this year.

Score hopes to make its contest an annual event in part to spread the word about its services.

“One of our goals is to make Score more visible in the small business community,” Mattox said.

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