The Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce has teamed up with Lead For Minnesota to launch an entrepreneurial business competition with the goal of stimulating economic growth in Waseca.

“The Waseca New Business Challenge is a 10-week training program with a business pitch competition at the end,” the Chamber said in its announcement. The winning business, expected to open in Waseca by March 2022, will receive “an incentive package worth over $30,000” from the Waseca community.

“I saw Owatonna do this a couple of years ago, and really liked the business that came out of it,” said Ann Fitch, executive director of the Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce.

That business was the Music Space of Owatonna. And while Fitch says Waseca already has something like that, the hope is that the Waseca New Business Challenge could get them something new, something that they might not already have.

“For the last decade, the amount of locally owned restaurants and retail has been amazing,” said Fitch. “More restaurants and retail would be great, but a small tech company would be pretty great, too. ... A unique business is extra points, but we’re very open.”

Applicants are required to submit an official Waseca New Business Challenge application form by July 2 on the Waseca Chamber’s website, where they can also find an informational packet with more information on the challenge.

Eligible business concepts include “a new business, second or third satellite business from an existing location or in another town, or significant expansion of a current business that includes an added business concept. All proposed businesses must be for-profit,” according to the Chamber.

In order to participate, applicants must be available to attend in-person training events, including three hours of group training each week, in Waseca. It also includes one-hour individual support every week.

While there is a $100 fee to participate, participants who successfully complete the program are fully reimbursed in the form of Chamber Bucks, which can be used at Waseca area businesses.

Fitch explained that she originally planned to go forward with this initiative last year, but once the pandemic and resulting business struggles set in, there was concern that no businesses would want to buy in at the time.

Now, though, after Fitch solicited chamber members in town for in-kind donations, there has been plenty of funding to set up the new businesses, help out with advertising, and more.

“And businesses are still getting in on in-kind donations,” said Fitch.

“It’s never been done in Waseca. These things are once-in-a-while types of projects. We probably wouldn’t do it for another decade or so, maybe 10 to 15 years till we do it again, because it takes so many resources.”

While business ideas have to be located in Waseca, participants do not have to live in the area. And the competition is not just for individuals. A group can get in on it too if they have a business idea.

“Basically, we set you up for all the success possible,” said Fitch. “With training from the Small Business Development Center, they’ll teach you a lot of what you need to know before starting a small business.”

“We want to eliminate pitfalls for new entrepreneurs,” she added.

That means going over how to do balance sheets with the Small Business Development Center, learning how to apply for business loans, how to conduct market research, and more.

“Then you will be as ready as possible to make that professional pitch for the pitch team,” she said.

Reach Reporter Julian Hast at 507-333-3133. © Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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