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2021 Metro East Start-Up Challenge offering at least $22,000 in prizes

Entrepreneurs and new business startups are invited to compete in the 2021 Metro East Start-Up Challenge, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s 8th annual regional business plan competition.

The MESC is organized by the Illinois Small Business Development Center for the Metro East at SIUE. The purpose of the Challenge is to identify, encourage and support entrepreneurs and business startups across the SBDC’s service area, including Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph Counties. This year, the competition has expanded its reach, adding Fayette and Montgomery Counties.

The first-place winner will receive a $10,000 cash prize. Second-, third- and fourth-place winners will receive $6,000, $4,000 and $2,000, respectively. Prize winners will also receive an array of in-kind professional services to include legal assistance from Carol Sparks, Attorney at Law, accounting services from Kerber Eck & Braeckel, LLP, web design services by Codd Interactive, and co-working space at The Lodge. The Illinois SBDC for the Metro East at SIUE plans to secure other in-kind services to offer the four winners.

This year, the SBDC and its partners are introducing two additional prize categories: Rural Business of the Year and Woman, Minority, or Veteran Business of the Year. Each category will have the opportunity to take home $1,500 in prize money.

The MESC is made possible through wide, regional support. Sponsors include the SIUE School of Business, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Anders CPA & Advisors, Madison County Economic Development, the City of Edwardsville, National Development Council, Town and Country Bank (Edwardsville and Fairview Heights locations), City of Highland, Carrollton Bank, St. Clair County Economic Development, Growth Corp, the City of Alton, Regions Bank, Riverbend Growth Association, FCB Banks, Monroe County Economic Development Corporation, Commerce Bank, Barber Murphy Group, and University Park at SIUE.

Scott Credit Union and Ameren Illinois Energy Efficiency Programs are this year’s sponsors of the Mentor-Semifinalist Networking Event to be held at the newly renovated Gateway Center in Collinsville.

SIUE’s School of Business, the SBDC’s host organization, will assist with facilitating the competition.

“The Metro East Start-Up Challenge elevates the discussion of, and support for, entrepreneurship across our region,” said SBDC Director Jo Ann Di Maggio May. “Interest in the annual Challenge continues to grow with each passing year.”

The 2021 MESC encourages for-profit entrepreneurs and startup businesses in (but not limited to) four target industries: information technology, manufacturing, healthcare and sustainable food. For a startup business enterprise to be eligible, it must have been established after April 30, 2018, and be headquartered in the SBDC’s nine-county (plus Fayette and Montgomery Counties) service area. For pre-venture entrepreneurs, proposed new business operations will need to be located within the same counties.

Past winners are grateful to have competed. They underscore how the MESC positively and productively extended their business efforts, strengthening their entrepreneurial journey.

David Kniepkamp and Catharine Magel of ArtSculpt International, located in Fairview Heights, won first place in 2020’s MESC. “The MESC was an exceptional experience that allowed ArtSculpt International to advance in the fundamentals and engage in a creative process for starting a successful and profitable business,” they said. “Focus, direction and implementation were the takeaways for accelerating a business plan that allowed us to create a stronger and more vibrant company, positioned to exceed customer expectations. The experiences cultivated and learned will last a lifetime.”

Sharon and Michael Sabo’s Tricentum Technologies LLC, of Monroe County, earned $4,000 for third place in MESC 2019. “One of the many positive things I’d like to stress is the individuals involved, specifically Paul, Marti and Jo Ann,” Sharon said. “They were incredibly supportive. You could approach them with any question, and they always helped you think. The business plan was a huge part of the experience.

“I’m not going to even call it confidence building, because confidence building indicates that you don’t have confidence. I’m going to call it confidence discovery, because discovering what you truly desire and what will drive you forward was what this competition provided. It was incredible. We’ve now achieved our patents, and our tool and die, so we have our die created. That progress was partly possible through these award funds.”

Tyler Mueth and his five brothers won the MESC 2018 with their hydroponics company, Vast Produce. “The business plan competition was a truly rewarding experience,” Mueth reflected. “The opportunity to network and discuss our idea and business plan with industry experts and leaders of the community was invaluable. We continue to grow and learn with the help of the SBDC and leaders we met through the competition.”

“The competition itself is a truly great experience for anyone interested in owning their own business,” added Joshua Colclasure, owner of Pint Perfect, LLC. “I am happy we could be a part of something so awesome! After winning the competition in 2017, I have been able to launch my company and start taking on clients.

“Going to the SBDC is easily one of the best decisions we have made for our company. Jo Ann is wonderful, and is truly passionate about seeing others succeed on their path to entrepreneurship. The SBDC is a great resource not only for new business owners, but also for any entrepreneur. I look forward to the long relationship to come with Jo Ann, her staff and the SBDC. It is truly incredible to have such support. The MESC competition is icing on the cake!”

The MESC includes three rounds, beginning with a brief questionnaire and executive summary submittal that is open to all applications that meet the eligibility guidelines. Participants selected for the second round are invited to expand on their entrepreneurial concept by submitting a full business plan. Semifinalists are paired with business professionals who will mentor them through the competition and potentially beyond. The last round is the “final pitch” in front of a panel of business experts.

For more information on the 2021 MESC or to initiate the application process, visit The initial entry deadline is Sunday, Aug. 8. Semi-finalists will be announced Friday, Aug. 20. Finalists will be notified on Friday, Oct. 22.

The Challenge will announce its cash prize winners on Friday, Nov. 5, during the monthly Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois meeting.

The Illinois SBDC Network is a service to the community supported, in part, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the SIUE School of Business.

SIUE operates two Small Business Development Centers and the International Trade Center. All three Centers provide resources, information and support to entrepreneurs, and small business owners in the nine-county Metro East region of Calhoun, Jersey, Madison, Bond, Clinton, St. Clair, Washington, Monroe and Randolph.

To learn how the SBDC helps small business, contact the Metro East SBDC at (618) 650-2929 or

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