Friday, 27 January 2017 08:00

Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge underway in southern Alberta

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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Some participants in the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge sat in on the second training session, Jan. 18 at the University of Lethbridge. Every Wednesday for eight weeks, participants are invited to sit in on training sessions to learn all they need to know about creating a business plan and how to do a business pitch. Some participants in the Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge sat in on the second training session, Jan. 18 at the University of Lethbridge. Every Wednesday for eight weeks, participants are invited to sit in on training sessions to learn all they need to know about creating a business plan and how to do a business pitch. Photo contributed

Entrepreneurs from across the province can take advantage of some inside business training with the 13th annual Chinook Entrepreneur Challenge taking place until May 3.


This challenge comes with eight weeks of free training for entrepreneurs where essentially those taking part are taught how to build a business plan.
Sessions are held every Wednesday night for eight weeks. They are streamed online and posted online the next day for people to watch who couldn’t attend.
Jason Bacon, project co-ordinator, says they have actual classes at the University of Lethbridge where they bring in the speakers.
“We bring in professionals every single week, where they say, ‘hey this is how you pitch’,” says Bacon.
These training sessions started Jan. 11 and will run until March 1. They are available at no charge to anyone who is interested in learning about how to better a business or start a new one. Some things people learn about in the training include market analysis, how to make sure a business could actually sell and how to make that plan.
After the eight-week training sessions are over, participants are given a bit of a break to create their pitches and business plans. On March 29, the actual competition begins and it’s also the submission deadline for the business plan portion of the competition.
“Everyone that takes part can put in a business plan  … each one is touched by three different screeners who are typically professionals who are bankers, accountants, lawyers — people that … evaluate business pretty routinely,” explains Bacon.
These judges grade each business plan based on a rubric. There is a general stream and a technologies stream. The top three in each of those streams get the chance to pitch to a panel of judges, Dragons’ Den style.
Typically, it’s independent judges that are making the decisions on the business pitches from each participant. Bacon says, Community Futures, as the organizing partner, doesn’t choose the judges.
“We bring in partners that understand the technology aspect and can give them really specific questions and … then we have a big launch at the end where we announce the winners,” adds Bacon.
The grand prize in each stream will be $10,000.
In the last 13 years, Bacon says they’ve given out more than $300,000 in cash and prizes and have helped over 1,000 participants.
As of Jan. 18, 88 businesses were registered for the challenge. Bacon says that’s above average. This year, the challenge was extended up to Red Deer, so participants don’t have to necessarily be in the Lethbridge region.
Bacon says they have a lot of Community Futures partner offices in the Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and central Alberta. If participants are in any of those areas, they can submit a business plan and potentially win.
“If people want to get caught up in that training, then there’s nothing to stop them from doing that right now, signing in right now and continuing on. We’re all about helping anybody that wants to get that training,” says Bacon.
This isn’t just for new businesses, it can be for existing businesses as well. There are some requirements such as existing businesses have to have fewer than 20 employees and less than $500,000 in gross revenue each year.
Last year, the grand prize winner was Halo Headwear who had already begun the business a little bit before the challenge. It was more part time and they ended up winning the grand prize.
“Really, we’re for those small businesses that … really need the help in planning and in getting to that next step,” adds Bacon.
This challenge is sponsored through partnerships and sponsors, making it free for participants to take part.
“There is such a support network in Lethbridge specifically for anyone who wants to start a business,” adds Bacon.
By taking part in this challenge, it gives entrepreneurs opportunities to learn and grow their businesses.
Final presentations are scheduled to take place on May 3.
To register for this challenge and to submit a business plan by March 29, visit http://www.chinookchallenge.com/.

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