Studers announce "Pensacola Business Challenge"

Quint and Rishy Studer today announced a contest for local entrepreneurs wanting to start or expand a business in downtown Pensacola. Called the “Pensacola Business Challenge,” it is being described as a hometown version of X Factor for small businesses.

“There are so many great business ideas out there these days, that we wanted to help someone start — and keep — a business,” said Rishy Studer. “By doing a challenge-type contest, we can help the new business get some attention, and we can also make sure that the winning contestant has ‘what it takes’ to be a successful business.”

Contestants will put together business plans and pitch them to a five-person panel of local business experts, who will select the best proposal.

The winning contestant will get a three-year lease of about 800 square feet in the building at Palafox and Main (formerly called the Willko building), which the Studers purchased and are currently renovating for Rishy’s boutique olive market and pasta restaurant, The Bodacious Olive. The first year will be rent-free with the next two years locked in at reduced rates. The winner will also receive a startup fund of $25,000 for furniture, equipment or other capital expenditures, along with ongoing mentorship, business training, and consulting.

“We were in the process of planning out the retail space in the Palafox and Main building, and we had this great storefront between the two other planned retail stores,” Studer said. “At the same time, we kept hearing about people who were interested in moving or starting a business downtown, so we thought, ‘Why not have a contest for the space, and let’s put together a package to help the winner?’ And that’s what we’re doing.”

The Studers got the idea from a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, which had a similar program. (I’m not sure, but it seems to be the BREC Breakthrough Business Challenge.)

The volunteer coordinator of the Business Challenge is Andrew Rothfeder, a partner with Levin Rinke Realty. He said applicants will pay a registration fee of $40 to cover the cost of a business planning software package. Each contestant will be paired with a consultant from UWF’s Small Business Development Center (at no cost) to help them define and develop their business plan.

Rothfeder emphasizes that the contestants’ ideas will be kept confidential. “We understand that a lot of would-be entrepreneurs are either working at other jobs or have a privacy concern for their business idea, and we are going to honor that,” he said.  “Every member of the Pensacola Business Challenge team will sign non-disclosure agreement, as will our judging panel members.”

The grand prize winner will be announced on March 15, 2012, with the business opening as early as June.

An informational meeting will be held on Thursday, December 15, at 5:30pm at the the Studer Properties Office in the Rhodes Building, 41 North Jefferson Street. The deadline for applications will be January 6, 2012.