Why Startup Mendocino? Why Now?
Two years ago, when I first started at West Business Development Center (formerly the West Company) as CEO, I hosted a screening of the documentary Generation Startup at Mendocino Community College. For the show’s promotion I teamed up with Jeff Parker, then new General Manager of KZYX. The film was about six entrepreneurs in Detroit capturing the struggles and triumphs of people who put everything on the line to build their businesses. It's an honest, in-depth look at what it takes to launch a startup, and it demonstrated the need for more entrepreneurs in our country overall.
More than one hundred and thirty people attended the event and the panel conversation afterward was lively and engaging. Jeff and I realized that people were craving straight talk and inspiration about what it takes to start and run a business, and we started our show Mendocino Works on KZYX community supported radio to do just that. On one of our early episodes, we talked about a program that had really piqued our interest – Angel Challenge Norway. This program helped entrepreneurs in rural Norway get ready to be entrepreneurs, putting them through intensive training, and training residents to become early stage investors. What really impressed us was the success of these entrepreneurs – who all hailed from a very small fishing village on the northern coast of Norway.
I know as a former small business owner myself and now CEO of West, that being able to talk about your business clearly and succinctly – having a vision and understanding financial projections – is crucial for success. Small business owners must talk about their businesses constantly – to lenders, to vendors, to their customers. Getting the pitch down is imperative.
After that Angel Challenge episode, Jeff and I looked at each other and thought – why couldn’t we do something similar here?
I applied for a Field-of-Interest grant through The Community Foundation of Mendocino County. West was awarded a grant from the John and Sandra Mayfield Economic Development Fund and they committed $10,000 for a cash prize. From there the plans were drafted, rethought and refined then fully funded first by the California Governor’s Office of Economic Development (Go-Biz) but more importantly by our amazing local sponsors who came on board because they believe in a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem and its connection to creating thriving communities.
Two years later I am proud to announce Startup Mendocino. It’s a business pitch competition open to all emerging entrepreneurs and business owners with a big idea in Mendocino County. We created an intensive Business Bootcamp workshop – three four-hour sessions of intensive visioning, marketing and financial training with fabulous field experts. We’re accepting twelve applicants to go through this Bootcamp, and at the end five with pitch their business or idea to a live audience. This audience will vote and decide who wins the prizes. But more importantly, everyone who is accepted to our program will come away with valuable skills to succeed in their business.
In addition to the Mayfield family and Community Foundation of Mendocino County, we are incredibly grateful to our anchor sponsors Adventist Hospital, Savings Bank of Mendocino County, Mendocino College, North Coast Brewing and Harvest Market. Without them, and the Mayfields, this exciting program would not have become a reality. I’m also grateful to people like Jeff Parker who see the untapped potential in our Mendocino mists.
We’re a big, rural county, with shifting economics. It is crucial we support and foster our businesses because small businesses are what make our County a place people want to live, visit, and return to time and again. The economic development small businesses can provide lift people up and make us stronger, together.
So here we are. At the launch of something entirely new. I do hope you will join us either as an applicant, a sponsor (we still have sponsorship’s available) or as a participant, by coming to our gala event on August 25th at Mendocino College theater.
See you there,
CEO, West Business Development Center