MAGNET’s Mspire Competition Offers Guidance, Financial Support For Startups, Entrepreneurs

By Olivera Perkins The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Even entrepreneurs, who haven't yet started making products, may be eligible for the "mspire pitch competition" if they can prove their entrepreneurial venture is more than a concept. This could include having prototypes or showing that they have lined-up customers.

CLEVELAND, Ohio

If you're an entrepreneur or small business making products, the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network's competition could be what you need to get to the next level.

The four-year-old mspire pitch competition, which is awarding $70,000 in prizes, is designed to offer startup businesses guidance and financial support.

"We really are trying to inspire physical product manufacturers here in Northeast Ohio by helping people to turn their physical product ideas into businesses," said Brandon Cornuke, MAGNET's vice president of startup consulting. "We're just as excited about all the great engagement they get from the judges -- the advice, the connections and the networking -- as we are about the prizes."

Judges will award several prizes valued at $3,000 to $20,000. They include a $20,000 subsidized engineering project, $10,000 in cash and project funding from the Business Growth Collaborative for minority entrepreneurs and a $5,000 cash award from Bank of America. The competition is open to entrepreneurs and small businesses in Northeast Ohio. The deadline is June 30.

Cornuke said even entrepreneurs, who haven't yet started making products, may be eligible for the contest if they can prove their entrepreneurial venture is more than a concept. This could include having prototypes or showing that they have lined-up customers.

"They just have to have a really, really great story about how they're developing that idea, and what sort of traction they've gotten or insights (they've developed)," he said. "We're really looking for folks who we believe have a ton of potential to build, to create jobs, generate revenue and improve the Northeast Ohio ecosystem."

The competition is an outgrowth of MAGNET's Iterator program, which works with entrepreneurs through the many sequences most successful startups undergo.

Past mspire winners credit help from MAGNET with keeping their entrepreneurial ventures on track.

Russell Horner, a CPA and private investigator at a local corporation, first made his Battle Toss yard game for a family fish fry. Roughly a cross between Cornhole and Tic-tac-toe, players throw blue and pink balls into a game basket, aiming to line-up four of the same color in a row.

"People loved it and said, 'Hey, you should patent this idea,'" he said. "Any age can play. Anybody can be good at it."

Horner's prize helped pay for expert assistance in building battletoss.com, which has aided him in selling 300 units since last November.

Companies providing professional advice also find participating in mspire rewarding. Luis Carrion, partner at Renner Otto, said the intellectual property law firm likes participating in mspire because the contest is focused on invention. The firm gives the intellectual landscape property award, valued at $4,000.

"Invention is key to our business," he said. "So, we want to make sure there is enough opportunity in our area for people to invent as much as possible."

As an mspire winner, Carla Macklin got professional marketing guidance, including in developing aliumadaptive.com, where she sells the special clothing for those needing help getting dressed. She started Alium Adaptive Apparel after seeing the need for garments that "didn't look like old people's clothes" and used Velcro-like closures that "weren't noisy and wouldn't cut into very fragile senior skin."

"I wanted to innovate with both materials and the different seaming technologies and bring a more modern look to the clothing," she said.

Macklin did brisk sales during the Christmas shopping season, but maintaining steady sales the rest of the year proved challenging. Still, she had a passion for building a business based on meeting the needs of people with mobility issues. Drawing upon her experience working with occupational therapists, who often complained they needed a more efficient way to recommend products to their patients, Macklin worked with mspire marketing professionals to find one. She recently launched swiftrec.io, an online platform for professional caregivers to recommend products, even those Macklin doesn't make, to clients.

Tessa Burg, vice president at Tenlo, a marketing firm participating in mspire and, worked with both Macklin and Horner on a process that included using data from testing different marketing strategies to find a "target audience, engage them and convert them" to customers.

"She is not going to stop," Burg said of Macklin. "She is going to keep testing, and finding different ways to connect with the audience."

Horner is also dedicated to expanding the market for Battle Toss. Like Macklin, he belongs to the Iterator, where he receives guidance as he continues to refine the game's design.

"They help provide advice and assistance, but you have to have the drive and determination," he said.

For information, mspire.org ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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