San Benito County businesses take part in Startup Challenge

County residents are in there "pitching" with other Monterey Bay startup hopefuls
Participants think through business hurdles in the process

Individuals from throughout the Monterey Bay area are refining and practicing their pitches, getting ready for the qualifying round of the Startup Challenge scheduled for this weekend, on April 8. The “pitch” is a five-minute presentation that attempts to explain the key aspects of a new business venture. The Monterey Bay Startup Challenge has been operating for eight years, five of those through California State University, Monterey Bay.

The Startup Challenge has grown exponentially with more individuals giving it a shot each year. The Challenge is a chance for both closet and professional entrepreneurs to go for the gold and see if their ideas can blossom. San Benito County is well represented for the first time with several applicants this year after having had only one entry last year.

Michelle Doty from Hollister will be pitching her product, “That Garlic Stuff.” Getting ready for the contest, she has been rushing between farmers’ markets and slipping into the practice sessions held in Salinas, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Seaside whenever possible. Doty was raised in San Benito County and produces her recipe locally. That Garlic Stuff is used as a sauce for a variety of foods and she is already selling it at Farmers’ Markets. Doty is entered in the Main Street division of the Challenge.

At the first training session, Doty sat quietly, taking notes and listening to the people well-versed on the pitch do their thing. “I didn’t want to have to say anything and was trying to figure out how do I get out of it,” she told BenitoLink afterwards. Most contestants were hesitant but found themselves in the limelight eventually.

Benitolink is also entered the Main Street Category and took part in several workshops. Main Street applicants have operated their businesses for fewer than two years and are small businesses, sole proprietorships or nonprofits.

At a “Creating a Winning Pitch” practice session held in Salinas a few days after the training session, Nick Anderson stood in front of the small audience of pitchers giving a pared-down explanation of his idea. His is an office supply delivery business called Office Stockers. For anyone trying to run a business in Hollister, an on-call office supply sounds pretty good. Ever since the closing of the Hollister’s Staples store, the community was left high and dry when it comes to office basics. Driving to Gilroy for a ream of paper or a printer cartridge is getting a little old. And that’s how Anderson got his idea. Living in Hollister, he realized it would save businesses money and time if he could stockpile office supplies and deliver them quickly when needed. Anderson is also going for the Main Street category.

The Start-up Challenge has three areas of competition, Venture, Main Street and Student, each with their own qualifications and prize money.  The highest prize of $20,000 will go to the winner of the Venture category.  The main street winner will get $10,000 and the best student pitch will win $1,500.

For the past three weeks, inventors and innovators have been rushing after work to attend the evening training sessions. Anyone interested in joining the Challenge was encouraged to work on their pitch through the program and not “wing it.” In the Monterey-Salinas area, participants got the helpful and experienced feedback from Brad Barbeau, who has been involved in the Challenge for five years. Barbeau is an associate professor at the CSUMB College of Business. Sometimes, the group benefits from drop-in friends like Fred Cohen, CEO of Management Analytics, who was willing to share his entrepreneurial expertise.

First-time contestants have to struggle with a few minutes of terror as they prepare for their first pitch, but most step out of the spotlight more ready and with a more refined presentation. The pitch workshop environment is friendly, helpful and both contestants and coaches bring up great questions and provide suggestions.

On April 8, Doty, Anderson, Benitolink and a few other San Benito County entrepreneurs will show up at the CSUMB campus ready to have their five minutes in the sun. Throughout the day, entrants will compete in the qualifying round, presenting their business venture to a small panel of judges. Regardless of their place in the contest results, everyone will get constructive advice from the judges and will have learned from the experience.

Finalists selected at the qualifying round will then be assigned their own volunteer mentors and will be able to take part in an “In It to Win It” workshop. Final-round pitches are scheduled for May 12.





Leslie David

Leslie David is a Bay Area independent reporter/producer and is a BenitoLink founding board member. She has produced for radio, television, newspaper and magazines in both California and Wyoming. She was with KRON-TV News in San Francisco as camera-woman, editor and field producer, where she won the Commonwealth Club's Thomas Storke Award with Linda Yee for their series on the Aids Epidemic. She started as a small market news reporter shooting her own 16mm film at KEYT-TV Santa Barbara. Leslie lives on a ranch with her family in San Benito County.