Fans of Boise Entrepreneur Week know that one of the most anticipated parts of the event is the awarding of big checks – figuratively as well as literally. And with what looks like this year’s return to an in-person event – crossing our fingers – the checks are going to be bigger than ever, with a potential total of more than $300,000.
“This is the largest amount of prize money that has ever been able to be won at Boise Entrepreneur Week,” said co-chair Nick Crabbs. The event is scheduled for Jack’s Urban Meeting Place in downtown Boise from October 24 to October 28.
On the other hand, the size of the checks depends on the generosity of the community, said co-chair Tiam Rastegar. “Our stated internal goal is to give away $100,000 to the first-place winners of the Pitch Competition and Trailmix,” he said. “Our ability to award those sums is tied to sponsorships,” which the organization is in the midst of raising. “We feel good about hitting the goal, but we can’t guarantee it. I’m 90% sure we can award $50,000.” And if the organization hits its sponsorship goal – hint, hint – then it can double the size of the first- and second-place payouts, he said. “We want to be on par with other pitch competitions,” he said.
But there’s more to the value of the pitch competitions than just the funding, Crabbs said -- though of course funding is welcome to any startup. It’s the validation from the community.
“Entrepreneurship is hard,” Crabbs said. “Oftentimes, people are risking everything to start a company. Pitch competitions like these and Boise Entrepreneur Week are a way for us to help support them on their journey. It’s really important for entrepreneurs to know there’s other organizations out there who have their back.”
The granddaddy of them all, of course, is the Pitch Competition. The winner is slated to receive at least $50,000, while the runners-up should receive at least $10,000.
Applications for the main Pitch Competition are being accepted online at boiseentrepreneurweek.org until Sept. 2. In addition, Boise Entrepreneur Week is looking for mentors to help prepare its finalists for their final pitch. Finalists will deliver a seven-minute pitch and will have an additional three minutes for Q&A with the judges.
Mentors are asked to commit one hour a week to BEW's pitch finalists for four weeks starting on 9/21 and ending on 10/21. The Pitch Competition takes place on 10/27.
Thus far, the Pitch Competition already has 12 applicants, Rastegar said. And as with last year, a number of winners of other Idaho pitch competitions, such as Hackfort and the Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge, get “golden tickets,” or an automatic entry into the Pitch Competition, he added. Several “golden ticket” winners have gone on to place in the Pitch Competition, he noted.
“That’s what we hope for,” Crabbs said. “That’s why the ‘golden ticket’ opportunities exist. “A few years ago, they’d win one and that would be it. Now, if they win other competitions, they’re a winner. It’s a way to encourage them to go on. It’s very validating for the entrepreneurs – they win one, and then they win another.”
And Boise Entrepreneur Week is always looking for additional touchpoints for people who win competitions, Rastegar said.
In addition to the first- and second-place awards, participants will be eligible for other awards as well, Crabbs said.
First, the winner of the Pitch Competition will be fast-tracked onto Bloomberg Television Network’s 2 Minute Drill, Crabbs said, and compete for an additional $50,000. Last year’s Boise Entrepreneur Week winner, Cargo Made EZ, ended up winning 2 Minute Drill as well, he noted.
Second, Connetic Ventures now has a formalized partnership with Boise Entrepreneur Week, where one startup from any of the competitions will be selected for a $100,000 equity investment.
Moreover, one startup from any of the competitions will also be eligible for the Impact Award, from Scoggin Capital Investments.
Proving that the way to an entrepreneur’s heart is through the stomach is the Trailmix pitch competition, presented by Albertsons. It helps food and beverage startups take their products from the farmers market to the supermarket. The grand prize winner will receive a cash prize and shelf space at Albertsons' Broadway store in Boise, with the potential for expansion into other regional stores if sales are strong. Trailmix applications are being accepted online at boiseentrepreneurweek.org until Sept. 9.
Judging criteria includes innovation, market traction, taste, shelf readiness for large retail, ingredients and the unique value proposition of the food product. For applicants to be considered for the event, they cannot be a current vendor or be in the process of becoming a vendor with Albertsons.
The screening process will result in five finalists who will be paired with industry mentors to prepare for their final pitch. Food companies not chosen to pitch will be invited to participate in Boise Entrepreneur Week’s Food Expo, taking place on October 27 from 3-5 p.m. in Boise, which is anticipated to attract more than 6,000 food enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Thus far, Trailmix has five applicants, Rastegar said. “It’s a little low, but we typically get the biggest surge after we scour the farmers’ markets,” he said.
Trailmix is made possible through Presenting Sponsor Albertsons. Boise Entrepreneur Week is supported by Title Sponsor Idaho STEM Action Center; Platinum Sponsors Alturas Capital, Scoggin Capital Investments, Zions Bank; and Gold Sponsors Perkins Coie and Vynyl.
Hacking for Homebuilding
The newest of the pitch competitions, Hacking for Homebuilding is being brought under the umbrella of Boise Entrepreneur Week for the first time, Crabbs said.
Hacking for Homebuilding, presented by Boise State University’s Venture College and College of Engineering, allows participants to form teams, choose a problem provided by homebuilding partners, and propose a solution in the form of a new venture. Cash prizes totaling $40,000 will be awarded and applications are being accepted at boisestate.edu/venturecollege/hacking-for-homebuilding until Sept. 15.
Elevator Pitch Competition
Due to the pandemic, the Elevator Pitch Competition – which Crabbs described as his favorite – is being brought back for the first time since 2019. “It’s not practical to run virtually,” he conceded.
The Elevator Pitch Competition, presented by University of Idaho, allows participants to share product ideas or a startup plan at any stage of development. Advance registration is not required.
Cyberchallenge Entrepreneur Challenge
The Cybersecurity Entrepreneur Challenge, presented by Boise State University’s Venture College and the Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity, allows participants to form teams, choose a problem provided by industry partners, and propose a solution in the form of a new venture. Applications are due Oct. 6 at boisestate.edu/venturecollege/cyber_entreprenuer_challenge. (Yes, there’s a typo in the URL. Remember that you can often spot phishing attacks by the spelling errors in them!)
Youth Innovation Challenge
The Youth Innovation Challenge allows students to propose solutions to real-world problems facing Idaho. Students may participate by forming teams during the event and submitting a video pitch by Nov. 23. Advance registration is not required.
Trailhead is also working on followup programs for winners with mentorship to help them succeed, said Rastegar, who is also executive director for the Boise-based startup and innovation hub.
“We’re working with our Executive Leadership Partners” – a special category of sponsors – “to help with keynotes, fundraising, and supporting them post-BEW,” he said. “We’re consciously building in this year.”
Executive Leadership Partners are also helping Boise Entrepreneur Week secure sponsorships, select keynote speakers, and put together a post-event “mini accelerator” for not only this year’s winners but also for previous year’s winners as well, Crabbs said.
“It’s an important step to offer support beyond the pitch competitions,” Crabbs said. “Most of the entrepreneurs are asking for mentorship and connections. The check is important, but they need someone beside them to offer advice and connections, like an advisor would.”
So far, this year’s Executive Leadership Partners are:
Fundraising for the pitch competitions
Boise Entrepreneur Week is made possible by Title Sponsor Idaho STEM Action Center; Platinum Sponsors Alturas Capital, Scoggin Capital Investment, Zions Bank; Gold Sponsors Perkins Coie and Vynyl; and partners Connetic Ventures and 2 Minute Drill. The event is accepting additional sponsors until Sept. 15.
This is the point where the Idaho startup ecosystem needs to step up, Rastegar said.
“We need your help,” Rastegar said. “This is the year. We’re returning to in-person. We give it away to help entrepreneurs. Nobody makes a buck on Boise Entrepreneur Week. We cover expenses, we cover costs, but what we raise goes out the door.”
Sharon Fisher is a digital nomad who writes about entrepreneurship.