On February 10, 2016

Business pitch competition will include college entrepreneurs

By Morgan True, VTDigger

The wall art inside the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies in Burlington quotes Steve Blank’s definition of a startup as “A temporary organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”

By Morgan True, VTDigger.org

LaunchVT, a statewide business pitch competition, is hoping to attract greater interest from a new demographic, its leaders say.

Friday, Feb.5, at the startup incubator Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies, the business development groups that sponsor LaunchVT announced a separate pitch competition for college entrepreneurs.

The LaunchVT competition, entering its fourth year, awards cash prizes to help winning entrepreneurs get their business ideas off the ground. This year two winners will share more than $80,000 in prize money, organizers say.

Applications are due by March 13 and can be submitted online.

LaunchVT Collegiate will hold its pitch competition Feb. 19 at Champlain College’s Alumni Auditorium. The winning team will receive $7,500 and a spot in the main LaunchVT competition.

Nick Grimley, co-founder of LaunchVT, said that in addition to awarding cash, the pitch competition has helped connect numerous entrepreneurs with support and mentorship opportunities.

Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce — a sponsor of the contest — described it as an excellent chance for entrepreneurs to turn a good idea “into the next big thing.”

Previous winners include Vermont native Cyrus Schenk of Renoun, a company that builds skis using a trademarked polymer that allows the ski to respond to conditions. Schenk now runs his company from the VCET incubator space on Main Street.

Two Middlebury graduates, Nate Beatty and Shane Scranton, won for their company IrisVR, software for the Oculus Rift virtual reality system that allows architects and design firms to navigate blueprints and design plans in three dimensions.

Beatty and Scranton went on to earn a Techstars award in 2015, giving them access to a global network of investors and advisers. IrisVR is now based in New York City and, according to its website, is hiring.

Bob Bloch, head of the Build Your Own Business program at Champlain College, said that in spite of all the concerns raised about young people leaving the state, his school is a “net importer” of young people.

Roughly 20 out of 100 students in a freshman class at Champlain College are from Vermont, according to Bloch. After graduation, close to 30 of those students stay in Vermont, he said.

Many stay for the mountains and natural beauty, or the craft beer and music scene, but others are staying because they see a future for themselves in the emerging tech industry in Burlington and elsewhere, Bloch said.

LaunchVT is an effective way to grow the “tech ecosystem” in the state, said Joan Goldstein, commissioner of economic development, adding that Burlington is becoming a nationally recognized technology hub.

In media audits conducted by Goldstein’s department, a tool to track what’s being published about Vermont’s economy, the state’s technology sector gets more attention than agriculture or its quality of life, she said.

“Nationally we get some better press than we do locally,” Goldstein noted ruefully.

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