Entrepreneurs compete in Launchpad competition

In the state of Alabama, local people with big dreams of starting a business have a chance through a statewide competition. Small business and entrepreneurship were hot button topics during the latest presidential election.

It's called Launchpad. What's at stake here is several thousand dollars in grant money for the people with the best business idea. More importantly, this could mean economic growth for the entire state.

"If we go through additional downturns in the economy, if we don't have diverse companies whether they're technology or small mom and pop organizations we won't be able to weather another economic storm," said Greg Sheek,{} director of Launchpad programs.

So what exactly is Launchpad?

"Alabama's path to commercialization for the research an innovative ideas that entrepreneurs are generating across the state. So we want to get ideas to market as fast as possible."

And what better way to get ideas to market than hosting a competition. The seventh annual Launchpad start-up competition is open to entrepreneurs at any stage in the business-building process.

But what about winning?

"The key behind winning is a market potential, having an idea whether it's a service, whether it's an app; but it has to have demonstrate able market," said Sheek.

One-hundred thousand dollars in start-up grant money is up for grabs. Jobs are also at the forefront of everyone's mind. Especially Bill Taylor, President of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama.

He says Launchpad fits perfectly with Accelerate Alabama, a state-wide plan initiated by Governor Robert Bentley to encourage business recruitment, retention and renewal.

"Jobs. A lot of people use that term; but good paying jobs, sustainable jobs, growth jobs. Those are some of the words we need to put into that picture too. Launchpad is all about that," said Taylor.

One person who can attest to that is Molly Wasko, last year's winner.

Wasko is co-founder of Indegree, an alumni tracking service that helps universities connect with graduates. By entering the Launchpad competition, she was able to walk away with a lot more than money.

"What I found valuable about the experience was not only the opportunity to win the money but the mentoring that went into it along the way," she said.

Since winning the competition, Wasko has five universities signed up to Indegree, and the company is generating revenue.

She says the experience has changed her life.

"We would have given up. It's given us enough momentum now that where we are attractive to additional investors to either take on a higher level investment. But we've also been approached by companies that are players in the higher education space," she said.

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