NWA StartUp Cup showdown approaches

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 100 views 

The NWA StartUp Cup competition for entrepreneurs is winding down this week as seven finalists have one more chance to win the judges’ favor on Nov. 1.

The business model competition is designed to provide a support system to entrepreneurial start-ups. The field has already been narrowed from 40 teams that entered in September down to a dozen before these seven finalists were chosen to compete in one last round on Thursday.

Dummy Drummy LLC, Johnathan Mwaba – sells a GPS enabled self-launching, non-inflatable sea rescue pod branded the Dummy Drummy®.

Chez l’ Hair, Carla Thompson – customizes wigs and hair extensions.

More Than a Review.com, Donna Feyen – a book review website that uses a simple rating system that allows users to grade a book on violence, rough language, sex, and drugs and alcohol.

Jack Bragg Shoes, Andrew Denton – a socially conscious, eco-friendly company that up-cycles highway billboard vinyl into footwear. A portion of sales is then donated to Action Against Hunger, a international humanitarian organization that combats world hunger.

Tackle Tronics, John Lockwood – a door-to-door campaign platform that offers a map-based mobile app to help political candidates target voters and reach them efficiently.

Olive Loom, Leah Garrett and Lou Sharp – a local studio offering textile products that are designed and customized for each person.

Geek Mapper, Stephen Ritterbush – a free social media tool for finding entertainment conventions, learning about attendance of celebrities and vendors and coordinating with friends.

Three winners will be announced at the gala awards celebration slated for Nov. 15 in conjunction with several other local events being planned to commemorate Global Entrepreneurship Week, held Nov. 12 – 18.

Local organizer Tonya Nkokheli said the Northwest Arkansas competition does not pay cash to the top three winners but they will receive award packages that include ongoing support services, publicity and promotion. She hopes to be able to add enough sponsors by next year to provide cash in the winning packages.

Mark Tocco is on the board of directors for the Northwest Arkansas Entrepreneurial Alliance and serves as a judge for the NWA StartUp Cup. He also serves as a mentor for the ARK Challenge, which is a similar competition for the technology industry.

“I’ve been impressed with the diversity of companies that come through,” he said. “It’s industry agnostic and we’ve had businesses from retail, technology and the service sector.”

Tocco said that most people in the country might not think of Northwest Arkansas as a center for entrepreneurial endeavors because it’s also home to so many large companies. What is easy to forget, however, is that each one of those companies started in the mind of an entrepreneur.

“We need to make a statement about the potential for Northwest Arkansas. The more of these businesses that we successfully add to our community, the easier and better it will be to get that word out nationally and internationally,” Tocco added.

StartUp Cup founder Sean Griffin and his wife Kristen Bergman operate the StartUp Cup organization, which began six years ago in Tulsa. Griffin is also a  judge at the NWA StartUp Cup.

“Northwest Arkansas was the first licensee, which is really cool,” Bergman said. “It’s near and dear to our hearts and it has a big impact that we can have a StartUp Cup there.”

The participants don’t pay a dime to enter as all funds are generated by sponsorships.

Bergman said the StartUp Cup is different from most business competitions in that it requires entrepreneurs to compete with their business model, not business plan.

“Business plan competitions tend to award a good plan, but there’s no incentive to go out and build the business,” Bergman said. “We’re about job creation and business creation.”

StartUp Cup is global network of a locally driven business model competitions open to any type of business idea. It can be replicated in any community and is a proven model to create viable businesses, grow jobs, and enhance entrepreneurial ecosystems.

There have been 11 StartUp Cup competitions so far this year, with nearly 50 on tap for 2013 in some 10 counties, according to Griffin.