Entrepreneurs win prize money at WCU conference

Entrepreneurs and owners of existing small businesses from Asheville, Sylva and Hickory shared $7,000 in prize money to help launch or grow their companies during the inaugural LEAD:Innovation conference Wednesday, April 22, at Western Carolina University.

Billed as kinder, gentler versions of the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” competitions included the “Bright Ideas Rocket Pitches” event, a series of fast-paced proposals from entrepreneurs and inventors aimed at potential investors, and the “Promising Business Acceleration” contest, in which owners of promising existing businesses make proposals for additional capital to accelerate growth.

Paul Hedgecock of Asheville won first prize of $2,500 in the “Bright Ideas Rocket Pitch” competition for his pitch for Ugo Tour, a travel and tourism smartphone app for Western North Carolina points of interest.

Second place and $1,000 went to Emily Edmonds of Sylva for her concept for WNC Brewhub, a proposal to establish a shared beer production and distribution facility for breweries across the region.

In the “Promising Business Acceleration” competition, Ted and Flori Pate of Asheville claimed first prize and $2,500 to build their business Local Flavor, which provides a free app for smartphones that promotes only local, non-franchise businesses.

Stewart and Tammy Cook of Hickory took second prize and $1,000 for Cook Consulting App Garden University, a virtual training tool that provides training for substitute teachers customized for individual school districts.

The LEAD:Innovation conference included nine “Bright Ideas Rocket Pitches” and six “Promising Business Acceleration” presentations, said Ed Wright, WCU associate professor of global management and strategy and among the event organizers.

“The subjects of the pitches were quite varied, ranging from an online physicians’ tele-health start-up to new products for stroke rehabilitation,” Wright said. “Overall, the quality of the pitches was excellent, and we look forward to doing this event on a larger scale next year.”

About 100 entrepreneurs, prospective entrepreneurs, investors and others interested in the economic development of Western North Carolina attended the entrepreneurship and small business summit.

The conference was part of a series of scheduled “spin-off events” from November’s LEAD:WNC, a one-day summit convened by WCU to discuss solutions leading to sustainable economic and community development.