By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
EDWARDSVILLE — Business ideas that empower women and impact families have a shot at $70,000 in national cash prizes, but they must cross an important local hurdle first.
The Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at SIUE was chosen by the U.S. Small Business Administration to serve as a host organization for the 2016 InnovateHER Business Challenge.
The winning concept from a 25-county area of Central and Southern Illinois will take home $2,500 and have his or her business plan submitted for national consideration. But time is of the essence. The local deadline to apply is Nov. 10, and SBDC must have the names of winners forwarded to SBA by Dec. 3 for the semifinal round.
Ten finalists will then be invited to Washington, D.C, in March for a live-pitch round, sponsored by Microsoft.
Locals have been scrambling to get the word out among entrepreneurs.
“We rolled right out of the Startup Challenge and right in to this, virtually the next day,” SBDC Director Patrick McKeehan said, referring to the Metro East Startup Challenge, which awarded $25,000 to local entrepreneurs in early September.
The eligibility rules are fairly open. Applicants must offer a product or service that has a measurable impact on the lives of women and families; have the potential for commercialization; and fill a need in the marketplace. Participants must be 18 or older and both male- or female-run businesses can apply, as well as non-profits.
McKeehan said his office has partnered with a number of organizations across the region, including other SBDCs at Kaskaskia College and Lincoln Land Community College to pull the local competition together. Centrue Bank and Mathis, Marifian & Richter, Ltd., agreed to serve as competition sponsors. Centrue will provide a $2,500 cash prize, and the Mathis firm will provide in-kind legal services.
Regionally, three St. Louis winners will be chosen, one from the Illinois, one from Missouri and one from a student-level competition.
PNC Bank, which sponsored the Metro East Challenge, has agreed to let the SBDC use $1,000 set aside from the Challenge to honor a winning student idea.
Applications must be made online via https://app2.pitchburner.com/s1/site//InnovateHER by midnight Tuesday, Nov. 10. The SBDC and its partners will announce its local winner and nominee for the March 2016 national competition Thursday, Nov. 19.