Metro East Start-Up Challenge returns, new categories announced

This year, the Metro East Start-Up Challenge has expanded to include Fayette and Montgomery counties and two new prize categories. The annual competition aims to help mentor and provide support to small businesses.


The competition is held by the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East. Jo Ann Di Maggio May, director of the SBDC, said those interested should submit their application and executive summary by the initial entry deadline of Aug. 8.


“The executive summary really is the last thing you write when you put together your business plan, but for our competition, it’s the first thing,” Di Maggio May said. “It’s that snapshot that talks about, ‘What is the business idea, who are you and why do you think you can accomplish this business and what’s going to make you successful?’”


Di Maggio May said this year, in addition to Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph counties, Montgomery and Fayetteville counties will also be eligible. She also said two more prize categories have been added this year.


“With the addition of those two counties, we are hopeful that we will have additional sponsorships and prize money to hand out,” Di Maggio May said. “To really sustain the overall value of the competition and the overall presence that we’ve sustained over this time, we want to incorporate two new prizes with those funds. We will have a Rural Business of the Year as well as a Woman, Minority or Veteran Business of the Year prize.”


Di Maggio May said winners of the new prize categories will receive $1,500 each. Requirements for entry into the new categories can be found on the MESC website.


The top four winners will take home $10,000, $6,000, $4,000 and $2,000, respectively, along with professional business services or mentoring.


Each leg of the competition has independent reviewers composed of business professionals, a panel of judges for mock business pitches and then the final judging panel to determine the winners. Di Maggio May said the SBDC assists with pitches, mentoring and organizing the competition, but does not decide finalists.


Businesses must be for-profit to be eligible. Existing businesses must have been established after April 30, 2018. Businesses must be headquartered in one of the 11 counties. Winners will be announced Nov. 5, 2021.

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