Rachel Warnos stands in front of a crowd pitching the concept she and her three friends have been brainstorming for a long time.
She is a cofounder of a new company called Adventure Sports North in East Jordan. Their goal is to launch a new race that spotlights the town’s natural beauty through a new event they’re calling R3.
“R3 stands for a run ride and River. Our idea is to create an adventure race triathlon where participants will run and they'll bike around the area and then we want to capitalize on the fact that East Jordan has this amazing pristine resource which is the Jordan River. So instead of a traditional swim like you'd see in some triathlons our participants are going to paddle down the Jordan River. So they finish their race in Downtown East Jordan,” said Warnos.
The cofounders believe there’s demand for these kind of events, and they want to meet the demand with more options that feature their community.
“We've seen other events like the M 22 challenge for example. They sold out 900 slots in three minutes. So people are interested in this kind of new type of adventure sports,” Warnos said.
But to help get their race off the ground, Warnos decided to stand on a stage and pitch the idea in front of a panel of judges, and a crowd of over 200 people.
Throughout Michigan, entrepreneurs are entering into pitch-night competitions. The competitions are hosted by local businesses or economic development organizations. They’re one way for towns like East Jordan to discover new business ideas.
When she and her business partner heard about the Green Light competition in East Jordan, they started brainstorming. The pitch night competition has 15 thousand dollars up for grab. 10 ten thousand is the grand prize. 11 businesses qualified to compete in the competition’s third year.
These pitch nights are just one creative solution that towns and cities around Michigan are using to promote new businesses.
“Entrepreneurship is changing. As an entrepreneur you can’t walk into the bank anymore and ask for a large loan without any credit or collateral. These types of competitions are a new wave of thinking or funding to get the capital needed to start a business,” said Clif Porter, one of the organizers of Green Light East Jordan.
“We’ve seen the whole gambit of entrepreneurs apply. Teachers in our local community, farmers who have value added and new business off-shoots. We’ve had folks that had no idea what to do with their business or their idea, and applied knowing that if they got the seed money, they could kind of figure it out.”
And even if they can’t secure the top spot, Porter said the connections made at these events can be just as valuable.
“So even if you’re looking to open up a small shop. You might come across a local investor who says I’ve always wanted this in my town, and I don’t need the largest return in the world, but I want this capital to go to good use,” he said.
Green Light East Jordan is just the first one of a number of pitch nights in northern Michigan. Cheboygan will host Invest Cheboygan on November 1. And what organizers dubbed the “Grand Event” will take place at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey on November 14. Plans are in the works to start new pitch competitions in Emmet and Antrim Counties.
Warnos has already seen a number of the pitches during a coaching session held before the event.
There’s South Farm Market, which hopes to open a delicatessen that sells local gourmet foods in East Jordan. And CK Innovate, a company that assists small non-profits. A possible boat and brewery fusion called Hops-n-Props was also featured.
And surprisingly, she’s excited about a lot of the different potential businesses.
“I think a lot of these businesses are fantastic. I would be excited about seeing any one of them be successful,” Warnos said. “And I think it's amazing to have this cash prize that inspires people to go out there and say hey this is what I've always wanted to do. I might not have the money to do it but this is what I want to do. This is what I could bring to the community.”
For Warnos, their goal to bring an adventure race to their community is more valuable than the victory itself.
“It's not about how much money we can make. It's about doing something fun and bringing something really cool to the community something that we already feel passionate about, that we like and you know our friends will come and participate. And I think it'll be a great asset to the community and bring people to town and just be an overall fun event,” she said.
Warnos and her team may not have walked away with the grand prize, but they did take home third place. For a new venture, that’s a pretty good showing.
With $1,000 cash, and a little time, they might kick off their first inaugural race, with paddleboards and kayaks flying down the Jordan River.