By D’Ann Lawrence White
Tampa Tribune, Fla.
NEW PORT RICHEY
They knew there was a need. But Brian Anderson and Janel Norton of Holiday were not sure if their idea for a new business was viable.
So they decided to test the waters by pitching the idea to the Pasco County Economic Development Council as contestants in the first SMARTstart Challenge in November.
Anderson, a former Army Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Norton, a combat camerawoman in Bosnia, are intimately familiar with the physical and mental traumas experienced by veterans. They also are aware of the lack of services available to help veterans.
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They decided to launch the Veterans Alternative Therapy Center to help veterans deal with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Norton, co-owner of Trinity Yoga, personally has experienced the healing benefits of yoga nidra, a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping in which the body is in its deepest state of relaxation. This method of yoga had been found to reduce tension and anxiety, as well as the headaches, chest pains, palpitations, sweating and abdominal pains experienced by veterans with PTSD.
She and Anderson dreamed of opening a center for veterans that would offer yoga nidra, as well as accelerated resolution therapy provided by the University of South Florida and physical therapy.
The big question was whether they could find a way to offer these needed services to veterans for free.
During the SMARTstart Challenge, they pitched their concept to a team of business experts, including their plan to partner with the nonprofit Chris T. Sullivan Foundation and obtain financial support from organizations and private donors.
The judges were impressed, In December, Anderson and Norton became the first winners of the challenge.
Now the EDC is searching for a new crop of challengers to vie for $10,000 in prize money. It will accept applications for its second SMARTstart Challenge business pitch competition through Jan. 8.
During the competition Feb. 25, held in conjunction with Saint Leo University’s student business plan competition, local entrepreneurs will compete for the combined $10,000 in prize money. Like Anderson and Norton, the first-place winner also will receive a six-month membership to one of the SMARTstart Pasco Business Incubators.
The incubators are business centers where experts work with entrepreneurs to help them get their businesses off the ground.
“The SMARTstart Challenge is a great opportunity for entrepreneurs to present their companies to the market, get valuable feedback on their presentations, and to earn capital to help them grow,” said Krista Covey, program director for the SMARTstart Pasco Business Incubator Program. “We are pleased to partner with Saint Leo University, which helps engage students that are involved with the business plan competition portion of the event.”
“The SMARTstart Challenge is a perfect complement to our business plan completion,” said Lorrie McGovern, assistant dean at Saint Leo University. “It will be exciting to have students interact with entrepreneurs from the community.”
On Jan. 20, a team of business experts will evaluate all of the applications, looking for businesses that are innovative and marketable and have a solid financial plan, and select 10 to give oral presentations Feb. 10.
During those presentations, contestants will have five minutes to present their business ideas to the panel of judges. The judges then will select five or six finalists for the Feb. 25 competition.
Applications are available online at www.smartstartpasco .com. For additional information about the 2016 SMARTstart Challenge, call the SMARTstart Pasco Business Incubators at (352) 437-4861 or email HCarapella@pascoedc.com.