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HIGHLAND - The 2014 Highland Gigabit Challenge - the city's first - is a business plan competition offering more than $50,000 in prizes to its winners. Highland's event partner is the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

The Challenge winner receives a cash prize of $15,000, while the two runnersup will receive $5,000 in cash. All three top contestants will be provided with professional legal services, office space, high-speed internet access, branding/marketing services and business mentoring through the Highland Entrepreneurship Program.

To receive competition benefits, competition winners must operate in Highland for a minimum of one year.

"Our goal is to attract startups that make use of technology in their venture," said Lisa Peck, Highland Economic Development and Marketing Coordinator. "It is highly unusual to find a community of our size heavily invested in state-of-the-art gigabit Internet service. Therefore, Highland is in a unique position to offer a great business environment to Challenge participants."

Patrick McKeehan, director of the Illinois Metro East SBDC, says the greater St. Louis region is rapidly gaining the reputation as an attractive area for startups.

"The entrepreneurial environment in the greater St. Louis region - including Highland - is vibrant, especially for tech-oriented start-ups," McKeehan said. "These firms are able to take full advantage of the outstanding levels of support from both the public sector and corporate community."

The Highland Gigabit Challenge is sponsored by the Singleton Law Firm, PC, the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the Highland Chamber of Commerce, Corning, Foppe Visual Communications, Bluebird Network, The Bank of Edwardsville, RETKO Group, the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, Oates Associates, National Telco Television Consortium, First Clover Leaf Bank, Rotary Club of Highland, Terra Properties, Highland Communication Services, and Moran Economic Development. The Illinois Metro East SBDC serves as the Gigabit Challenge's administrator.

Applications are being accepted through Oct. 27. Competition winners will be announced Dec. 12. To enter, contact Peck at (618) 654-3592 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit: highlandcommunicationservices.com/gigabit-challenge.htm.

The Illinois Metro East SBDC is funded, in part, through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to serve entrepreneurs and small business owners.

The SBDC and its partners attempt to positively impact the Metro East by strengthening the business community, creating and retaining new jobs and encouraging new investment. It offers one-stop assistance to individuals by means of counseling, training, research and advocacy for new ventures and existing small businesses.

To learn more about the SBDC, contact 618) 650-2929 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..