By Lauren Brown
Rachel Robinson had been thinking about starting an organizing business since she quit teaching and decided to stay home with her kids, but little did she know her idea would net $1,000 in a local business plan contest.
The contest, offered through the Harney County Office of Economic Development, began on April 28 and ended on May 27. Business/Economic Development Coordinator Mark Maliwauki said there were six participants who took part in a two-day training and then had three weeks to complete their business plans before presenting them to a panel of judges who decided the winners. Prizes consisted of $1,000 for first-place; $750 for second and $500 for third.
The contest provided Robinson, who won first place, with the necessary motivation to put her “Organize It!” idea into motion. “This is just what I needed to stop talking about it and take some action,” she said. She hopes to combine her two passions, teaching and organizing to help people organize their homes.
Maliwauki said that the Lane MicroBusiness program provided the two-day business plan training for the participants, three of whom already had businesses but had not written plans. “The experience was really meant to introduce people to the process,” Maliwauki said. “If you’re really serious about creating a business, you’re going to need a plan, especially if you need to borrow money.”
Robinson said that it took a lot of courage just to put her idea out there for others to scrutinize. She and her husband, Geoffrey, moved to Harney County from California, where she taught for five years. However, now that she is a stay-at-home mom, starting her own business seemed like a viable option. “My background is teaching, so to venture into the business world was really scary,” she said. “I needed a lot of questions answered.” The training provided by Lane MicroBusiness gave her some of the answers she required and the confidence to go forward.
Selene Dobson won second place in the contest for her business, Eastern Oregon Stitch and Print, a screen printing business (formally 4-Brats Stitch and Print), which she has had for four years. She entered the contest hoping to build a plan for her business’ future. “My main reason for doing this class is that we’ve gotten to the point where we want to expand,” she said.
Dobson appreciated how well-organized the contest was, especially during the training session. “Everyone had a laptop,” she said. The instructors took participants step-by-step through the process of creating a business plan. “They had it completely outlined,” she said. “It was definitely worth the time.”
Judges for the contest included Harney County Judge Steve Grasty, Richard Wood of Bank of Eastern Oregon, Patty McNeil of Sterling Bank and Jan Oswald of Gourmet and Gadgets. Maliwauki said the judges evaluated the participants on different elements of their business plans such as the general company description, marketing plan, operational plan and financial plan. Contestants were also scored on clarity of message, understandability as well as performance and delivery.
Maliwauki noted that the judges took the time to go through their critiques with each participant. “That was one of the most invaluable aspects of this contest,” he said.
Robinson said that everyone involved with the contest was extremely supportive of her business idea. “The judges were really nice,” she said. “Going through the whole process gave me an idea of how feasible it was.”
Maliwauki hopes to make the contest an annual event. “This gives people a little bit more exposure,” he said.
In fact, he hopes the participants in the Harney County contest will go on to enter the business contest put on by the Small Business Development Center at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande. The nine-county contest, which will take place this fall, expects to see more than 70 entrants vying for substantially larger prize purses.
Maliwauki hopes all the Harney County participants use their plans to ultimately make their businesses grow. “It’s a living document,” he said. “Every six months to a year, it should be revised. It will change as their business changes.”
Sponsors for the contest included Lane Microbusiness, the Harney County Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Office, the Training and Employment Consortium Office, Sterling Bank and the Burns Times-Herald.