Each year, Mandan-based entrepreneurs are offered the opportunity to grow their businesses exponentially through the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge. This year, event leaders are hoping for the event’s best year yet, filled with ideas and potential to expand Mandan’s business landscape. I talked to Ellen Huber, Business Development & Communications Director for the City of Mandan, to discuss the event’s history, past winners, hopes for the event moving forward and more.
When the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge first launched in 2018, many didn’t know what to expect from the new event. Despite venturing into the unknown, City of Mandan leaders quickly found success and the support needed for the event to prosper in coming years. Business leaders receive the chance to boost their company or entrepreneurial dream to the next level through the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge.
“Business owners and entrepreneurs receive some very good publicity from this event. It’s extremely helpful whether it’s connecting them to customers, if they’re a B2B business or any other networking connections that come out of the event,” Huber said.
While the team behind the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge always appreciates a high turnout with many hopeful contestants, they’re more focused on the depth and substance behind each submission and business plan.
“Rather than measure success based on the number of applications received, we look at the quality of those business plans. We had 11 applications in 2018. However, year after year, the quality of those applications has still improved more than we expect. We’re always impressed by the variety and the different types of business models and concepts that none of us ever would have imagined. It’s always intriguing to see what others come up with,” Huber said. “We’re just always looking for concepts that will bring value to our community—whether that’s filling a missing product line or service category, bringing about innovation through technology and high-quality jobs or filling in a vacant storefront. There are so many ways they can bring value to our communities. We’re looking to continue to strengthen the competition and make it meaningful and helpful to those that participate. I think [that’s] one of the factors in continuing to improve Mandan’s overall business environment this year.”
While the event’s organizers are always looking to improve the event, changes and clarifications are always being made as the event grows and expands. For example, one applicant was unsure if they could apply again this year due to their entry the previous year. This year, organizers are emphasizing that the opportunity is for business hopefuls in the area, regardless of if they came short of placing in a prior year’s competition.
“Any applicant, other than prior winners, is allowed to re-enter. Even a prior year’s winner could enter with a different business if they were a serial entrepreneur. Applicants can be either home-based or mobile-based anywhere in Mandan or the surrounding 10- mile radius outside of Morton County. Every year, we continue to learn and strengthen some things. When we started this competition in 2018, before the pandemic, the majority of applicants had brick-and-mortar businesses,” Huber said. “Since COVID-19, however, we’ve really seen that change. Food trucks are more popular and we’ve seen some new, refreshing business trends emerge. Whether the business sticks around or fades, depending on the concept, these applications have prompted a lot of conversation amongst our growth fund committee members. That board oversees a portion of our 1% local sales tax that’s devoted to economic development throughout Mandan. The prize money is a forgivable loan, releasing 20% each year over the course of five years as long as the business is open, operable and Mandan-based.”
The use of a forgivable loan to disperse the prize money over five years to a business with certain qualifications allows it to prosper for years to come, as well as ensures that funds are directly impacting the Mandan community. The Mandan Business Pitch Challenge has a five-person selection committee, as well as a different five-person panel of live judges.
This makes it unique, as the four finalists selected have the opportunity to take feedback from the selection committee and refine their application and executive summary of their business plan and turn in a new one a week prior to the finals. With a wide variety of judging backgrounds and criteria, comes an equally broad variety of applicants and entries.
The judges score each pitch based on six sections. For each section, a score will be given on a 1-5 scale; 1 being poor and 5 being excellent. The sections that are scored are as follows:
1. Plan Content
Clear and thorough with supporting information, research and analysis.
Is the idea distinctively creative or different from other products/services on the market OR in the community?
3. Target Customer
Clearly identify who will buy or use the product or service and why. Market is carefully chosen and the company has the ability to reach and retain them.
Addresses a market need or opportunity.
Potential to grow and generate income beyond self-employment and other expansion opportunities.
6. Leadership Team
Expertise to manage the business in its current state and/or has addressed the need for additional key people and strategies to attract these individuals.
One thing I’ve learned about this competition is that you’re never comparing apples to apples. Instead. you’re comparing a pineapple, banana and an orange,”
“Having the selection committee and judges come from different backgrounds brings unique and differing perspectives to the table. One business in contention may be small, yet offer a lot of public benefits, while another one may have strong B2B elements,” Huber said. “There are just so many different things to look at…. Nathan [Schneider] and I, as contest organizers, love to see when the applicant has already committed some significant skin in the game themselves and view the prize money as more of the frosting on the cake, rather than the cake itself. I think it helps to have that mix of criteria among applications and at the end of the day, it shakes out pretty well.”
With each applicant as unique as the one before it, each business plan offers both draws and setbacks for earning the top prizes at the event. Having a variety of judges using similar criteria to measure the unique candidates allows for some fairness in measurement and scoring participants.
For those on the fence about submitting their business plan and getting involved in the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge, Huber elaborated on why most entrepreneurs should look into the event and its dual benefits for the applicant, as well as the city of Mandan.
“Go ahead and enter because even if you’re not selected as a finalist, you’ll still get some immensely valuable feedback. It’s a great way to get some external perspective surrounding your business or idea. Oftentimes, we’ll look at some of these applications and have to ask ourselves what the value proposition is, what it is that they’re selling, how they’ll make money and more,” Huber said. “Sometimes, they just need to re-approach it in a way that simply and succinctly tells whether it’s going to be a lender or a potential investment and what is that business model in one or two sentences. This really helps them refine their plans and develop connections with new people that can help them. I like to say ‘Don’t let the excellence of today be stopped by the perfection of tomorrow.’”
$100 Cash price – Security First Bank
$10,000 Forgivable Loan – Mandan Growth Fund
- $10,000 if the winner’s business is open and operable in a commercial location in Mandan or the surrounding 10-mile radius in Morton County by May 1, 2024.
- $5,000 if the winner’s business is open and operable in a residential property in Mandan or a 10-mile radius in Morton County by May 1, 2024
$500 Cash Prize – Starion Bank
$250 Cash Prize – Gate City Bank
$1,500 Advertising Package – Townsquare Media
$600 Value – The Innovation Barn, 3 months standard membership
$500 “Getting Started Package” – Goodhart & Associates (includes a 1-hour collaborative planning meeting, 4-hour one-on-one training session and 1 month of unlimited email and/or phone support)
Business Solutions Package – Haga Kommer (includes 1 year of payroll services, 1 year of quarterly financial statements, 1 annual tax return)
$370 Ad Credit – Chamber EDC Connection business magazine
$250 Legal Consultation – Kelsch Ruff Kranda Nagle & Ludwig Law Firm (a 1-hour consultation on business structure, licensing, registration, partnership agreements and labor issues)
$250 Cash Prize – Starion Bank
$1,000 Advertising Package – Townsquare Media
$400 Value – The Innovation Barn, 2-month standard membership
$100 Cash Prize – Starion Bank
$500 Advertising Package – Townsquare Media
$200 Value – The Innovation Barn, 1-month standard membership
People’s Choice Winner
$100 Visa Gift Card – First International Bank & Trust
Take A Look Back at Photos from Recent Mandan Business Pitch Challenges!
Past Winners include…
2018 – Nordic Steel Building Systems
2019 – Latidot Scoop and Gift Shop
2021 – Letter the Lawn
2022 – Bubbles and Brews ND
Finalists have also gone on to open and expand businesses in Mandan.
Endless unique paths can be taken to find success with different obstacles and challenges. While some applicants may want their business plan fleshed out in its entirety, Mandan Business Pitch Challenge organizers don’t expect you to have the answer to every question on the first attempt. Rather, they’re looking for entrepreneurs who have plenty of room for growth and success with their business plans.
“One of the other factors we’re looking for is either new business concepts or those that are in the very early stages. They can’t be more than two years old, nor have generated more than $250,000 in revenue. You could have entered last year, gained valuable feedback and entered again this year with a stronger application,” Huber said. “Furthermore, it’s important to remember that you don’t have to win this to be connected to other types of assistance programs for the Mandan business community. We’re able to help connect people to the resources that they need. Learning how to succeed in the world of business just takes time and patience to nurture and see those fruitful results.”
While the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge has an array of benchmarks and criteria to measure the success of many different businesses, immediate success in the business world isn’t as likely as most entrepreneurs would hope. While a strong business plan requires significant work put into this challenge, Huber emphasizes the importance of attending no matter the progress made on your dream business.
“I would encourage people to attend the Mandan Business Pitch Challenge whether they’re thinking of starting a business yourself or just like to support people who are. It’s one of the most inspirational things I have a chance to attend and be associated with every year. Everyone should enjoy attending it since they’re supporting these entrepreneurs and having a chance to vote for the People’s Choice award. Anyone interested in Mandan and rising businesses should feel free to come out and watch, listen, learn and support these people,” Huber said.
Entries are open now for Mandan’s fifth Business Pitch Challenge through January 26, while the event is scheduled for March 23, 2023. The competition overview, prize list and application are posted at cityofmandan.com/businesspitch.