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” Startup Mendocino: Competition for entrepreneurs has $10,000 prize By Karen Rifkin |PUBLISHED: May 13, 2019 at 2:37 pm | UPDATED: May 13, 2019 at 2:40 pm

Startup Mendocino, the inaugural launch of a countywide, business-pitch competition culminating with a showcase gala event on August 25th at Mendocino College Center Theater where the first-place winner will be awarded a cash prize of $10,000, is the brainchild of Mary Anne Petrillo, CEO of West Business Development Center (formerly WEST Company).

WEST Company has been serving the county since 1987 and its initial mission was to lift women with low incomes out of poverty through self-employment offering them support in business plan training, access to capital, marketing strategies and fourth pillar services such as transportation, childcare, parenting skills and substance abuse.

Still committed to the same mission today, West Business Development Center, with locations in Fort Bragg and Ukiah, is focused on helping any small business with one to one hundred employees, offering no-cost, one-on-one, expert, confidential business advice and low-cost workshops that include how to start a business, apply for loans, understand finances, hire and retain employees, expand a business, understand digital marketing and build a brand.

“We are continuing the legacy of West Company; we take business people and train them up for our new economy. In 2019 we have small businesses in rural areas that are struggling; they need to utilize technology more to grow and thrive, to come on board and learn to use it to their advantage. At West Business Development Center we have been focusing on this for the last few years; it’s a continual evolution.

“We see new and creative ideas coming through here every day; sometimes there’s a funding mechanism in place and sometimes there’s just a really good idea; sometimes there’s a business plan but a lack of confidence to execute it. We meet people where they are and support them through to fruition,†says Mary Anne.

After working ten years in Silicon Valley in marketing and communications for Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility Group with their signature program Cisco Networking Academy, a networking curriculum used in 197 countries with 1 million students each year in the program, Mary Anne relocated to the town of Mendocino in the winter of 2016 to become CEO of West Company. Four months in, she hosted a screening of Generation Start Up, a documentary about small businesses in Detroit followed by a panel discussion with four local entrepreneurs.

The event spawned a radio program on KZYX with a show exploring innovative entrepreneurial business competitions in a small rural area of Norway.

“I thought if they can do it there, we can do it here. The seed was planted.â€

The intent of Startup Mendocino is to reach out to businesses in the county, to capture the excitement of something new. The original premise is designed around understanding the importance of small businesses in any community and how their growth is essential for economic development.

“What I want to do is create a program that will allow individual entrepreneurs from all across the county to have the opportunity to participate in a training program that will teach them how to pitch their ideas, their concepts, to an audience. Pitch camps have been done before but not here.â€

WBDC wrote a grant to The John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund at The Community Foundation of Mendocino County and the $10,000 first place cash prize will come from The John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund at The Community Foundation of Mendocino County; the $5.000 second place cash prize will be donated by Adventist Hospital; and the $2500 third place prize (in addition to a donation of $2500 for the gala event) will be provided by Savings Bank of Mendocino.

For those interested in applying, the countywide application process runs from May 13th to June 10th and is available online at https://www.westcenter.org/startup-mendo/.

“We are looking for entrepreneurs at all levels whether they are just starting with an idea or already have an existing business. We encourage everyone to apply; the application process is simple with straightforward questions. What is your business idea? Have you done anything yet? If not, that’s fine. What do you think going through this program will do for you? How would having this business impact our community? If English is not your first language, we will provide a translator for you.

“We are looking for people with commitment, those with energy and passion and an understanding of the direction in which they are going; people who want to do new things in the community; people who want to shake things up with ideas that have not yet been tried. We are looking for businesses with great growth potential, for creative ways to approach old problems that will shape the community in new ways. We will meet each person at his or her own level.â€

Twelve applicants will be chosen to attend the free WBDC boot camp, a series of four, four-hour workshops that will take place in Ukiah and Fort Bragg, taught by expert trainers in their fields including Meghan Cleary, Rachel Clark and Paul Bozzo.

The first session on June 24th will cover vision setting, commitment, brand strategy and the basic business model; the second on July 8th will focus on finance, obtaining capital and key financial indicators; and the third on July 22 will cover marketing.

All sessions will include training for participants to hone their skills and communicate their business pitch effectively. The pitch is about value proposition, what value does their product or service bring forth.

“We will work with these individuals to build their confidence and learn new skills enabling them to speak to the community about their intentions and plans. It will also be educational for others to learn about what goes into starting a business.

“The pitch is not just for prize money; every day business people need to pitch what they are doing to their vendors, their customers, their banks. Getting people to that level is a big challenge.â€

The semi finalist round will take place on August 4th at the North Coast Brewery in Fort Bragg before a panel of judges including event sponsors and WBDC board members, narrowing the field to the top five contestants.

“This is about stimulating the economy and making connections; it’s when things start getting exciting—when you are able to look at your community as a whole and see where the innovations are happening.â€

The final round, open to the public, will take place on August 25 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Mendocino College Center Theater where the five finalists will pitch their businesses before a live audience that will vote for the winners of the cash prizes. Food and beverages will be served.

“This will be a diverse group of professional and highly innovative business people competing to stimulate economic growth. We want this to be an event where people come to sit and listen to the presentations, to watch the entrepreneurs think through their strategies and fantastic ideas.

“We have a great diversity of business activity here; I would like others to see and experience these talented innovators who are utilizing resources to help the community in which they live.â€

Anchor Sponsors: The John and Sandra Mayfield Family Economic Development Fund of the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Adventist Hospital, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Mendocino College, North Coast Brewery and Harvest Market.

Tickets for the August 25 gala event will go on sale on August 1 at www.westcenter.org.

For additional information or inquiries about being a sponsor call 707-238-2108.”

Read the article online at The Ukiah Daily Journal here.

Startup Mendocino is a Business Bootcamp and Pitch Competition designed to spark new thinking about what is possible in Mendocino County through entrepreneurship. Startup Mendocino is sponsored by the West Business Development Center, America’s SBDC, The John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund at the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, Adventist Hospital, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Economic Development and Financing Corporation, Mendocino College, North Coast Brewery, Harvest Market, The John Pack and Linda Francis Family Fund at the Community Foundation of Mendocino County, and the Ukiah, Coast and Willits Chambers of Commerce and The Coast, The Coast – KOZT, and the California Association for Micro Enterprise Opportunity.

Startup Mendocino is supported by the Small Business Administration and California Governor Gavin Newsom’s Office of Business & Economic Development.