Mentor group’s startup contest back for second year

Smart Web founders Alena and Aliaks Tarasevich won last year's competition. (Michael Thompson)

Smart Web founders Alena and Aliaks Tarasevich won last year’s competition. (Michael Thompson)

A local nonprofit is tweaking its game plan and targeting younger companies in Year 2 of its startup contest that puts $8,500 in prize money up for grabs.

Richmond SCORE, which offers free mentorship to small businesses in the area, will open registration for its second annual SCOREcard Competition on Jan. 3.

The contest is open to startups and nonprofits less than 1 year old. The winner will receive $5,000 and one year of free office space at the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s building, while second place gets $2,500 and third gets $1,000.

Art Mattox, a Score mentor and competition spokesman, said startups, nonprofits and young businesses in any industry can apply. The only limiting factor is age. Last year, startups needed to be 2 years old or younger, and this year, Score cut it to one year.

“It’s a challenge for a startup to compete against an established business in a contest like this, as they can’t demonstrate any financial success that a business can,” Mattox said. “We’re trying to focus more on ideas that have an opportunity for success but haven’t even gotten their first dollar yet.”

Art Mattox

Art Mattox

Mattox said each contestant will be paired with a Score mentor to guide them through the competition. The mentors run the gamut of business experience. Mattox, for example, got his MBA from Harvard and worked at International Paper before starting his own business.

“We had 23 contestants last year, and there were three winners. All three of those have continued to be Score clients, even to this day. Of the other 20, about half of them have continued to be Score clients, and are still in business currently or are pursuing their business idea,” Mattox said.

The organization will announce this year’s judges in January. Contestants will be judged on growth potential, using the so-called Business Model Canvas.

“The Business Model Canvas is an organized approach to analyzing a business; it helps the business focus on the market they need to be targeting, the pricing to focus on,” Mattox said.

Last year’s Scorecard winner was Smart Web Restaurant, an online service that helps restaurants improve their web presence and website. Smart Web Restaurant appears to still be in business, but was not available for comment by press time.

A year ago, Mattox said one of the competition’s goals was to get Score more involved in the small-business community in Richmond, and the competition seems to have achieved that. He said Score’s list of entrepreneur contacts expanded by at least 25 percent between 2015 and 2016, and Score helped over 900 entrepreneurs during that time.

“I think the competition was the single-biggest activity that got Score noticed in the community. We did some other activities in terms of email marketing and social media marketing, but far and away the competition got us the most interest,” Mattox said.

Registration for the competition will open on Jan. 3, and close Jan. 31. Mattox said Score can take a limited amount of applicants, so the sooner startups apply, the more likely they’ll compete. Online registration is through Richmond SCORE’s website, and includes a $50 registration fee. After registering, contestants will have until the end of February to submit “a written analysis of their business idea,” according to the website.

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