The University of South Alabama Melton Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (MCEI) recently hosted its third annual Coastal Venture and High School Pitch Competition in the University Center on USA’s main campus in Mobile.
This was reportedly the first year that local high school students were eligible to compete. Twenty-four students comprising eight teams from Baker, Bryant, Davidson, Murphy and Williamson high schools participated. The winners of the high school pitch and business plan segments were:
Grand prize winner was K&W Bamboo by Waleed Saoud and Kendall Davis, Davidson High School; first runner-up was Vent1 by Kyle Cooper and Michael Whatley, Baker High School; second runner-up was Hair Plug by Jamiah Hendricks and Dahalia Hart, Williamson High School.
Business Plan Competition:
Overview section: Hair Plug by Jamiah Hendricks and Dahalia Hart, Williamson High School; marketing section: SOS by Luke Ray and Gregory Harrison, Bryant High School; financial management section: K&W Bamboo by Waleed Saoud and Kendall Davis, Davidson High School; operations section: Vent1 by Kyle Cooper and Michael Whatley, Baker High School.
Twenty college teams submitted videos during the weeks leading up to the event, resulting in six finalists. The top four contestants competed live, “Shark Tank”-style, in front of judges and an audience comprised of students, professors, business professionals and MCEI board members. More than $20,000 in prizes and in-kind services were awarded to competitors.
The $4,000 grand prize winner was Bailey Duos, who presented Port City Pups, a doggy daycare business with plans in place to open in downtown Mobile later this year. Duos will be provided one year of accounting and consulting services by Hartmann, Blackmon and Kilgore P.C.
Patricia West took home $3,000 as first runner-up with Marketeer, a company set up to provide marketing consulting to small businesses. The law office of John R. Nix will assist Patricia in forming her LLC and AdamsIP LLC will conduct a trademark search.
Second runner-up was Ronnie Reed and Brannon Schaffer, who won $2,000 by successfully presenting MyFam Entertainment, a company that assists independent artists in talent showcasing. The startup will receive 10 consulting hours from Innovation PortAL and will be provided a business valuation from William Bruce Business Sales & Acquisitions LLC.
Reagan Oswald took home the third runner-up trophy and $1,000 for her makerspace concept, The Workshop. Honorable mentions Kailee Kiminski with BayWave Music Festival and Randy Bumpers, creator of the Gap Project, were each awarded $500 in prize money.
Blaze Pizza announces expansion
Pasadena, California-based Blaze Pizza, a fast-casual franchise, announced in a news release that it has signed a deal for expansion into Baldwin and Mobile counties with Mobile residents and restaurant operators Jeff and Maureen LaCour.
The husband and wife team’s deal with Blaze Pizza includes the opening of two locations along the Gulf Coast with the first groundbreaking expected in Mobile. Established in 2012, Blaze Pizza has opened more than 300 restaurants in 41 states and five countries.
“After a trip to Blaze Pizza in Disney Springs with my family, the concept had my full attention,” Jeff LaCour said. “With almost 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry including 15 years as a QSR (Quick Serve Restaurant) franchisee, the more I learned about becoming a franchisee, the more I realized it was the right fit to diversify my portfolio. I’m looking forward to introducing the Gulf Coast to Blaze Pizza.”
In 2004, LaCour established LaCour Hospitality Management alongside his business partner, AJ Venatta, vice president of operations. The team owns and manages five Moe’s Southwest Grill locations throughout Alabama and Mississipi’s Gulf Coast.
“Jeff possesses the skills and passion we look for in our franchise partners,” Carolyne Canady, Blaze Pizza president, said. “We want people who believe in the product. Jeff is ready to hit the ground running with his new locations along the Gulf Coast.”
Recently named “Brand of the Year” in the Fast Casual Top 100 and the No. 1 “Fast & Serious Franchise” by Franchise Times, the chain is expanding nationwide. It currently operates in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, Boston and Toronto.
The concept is backed by private equity firm Brentwood Associates and founding investors that include LeBron James, Maria Shriver, movie producer John Davis and Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner.
Gulf Coast BizCon launches summit
The inaugural Gulf Coast BizCon Leadership Summit was held last Friday at The Steeple in downtown Mobile. It was founded by local Certified Public Accountant (CPA) Brent McClure and serial entrepreneur Brooks Conkle, co-owner of Cartridge World and the Mobile Rundown. The duo initially established a relationship six months ago, when they discussed the challenges and pitfalls related to entrepreneurship.
“Brent was expanding his personal business into speaking engagements and showed interest in producing a local conference. I had just come back from a seminar in Austin,” Conkle said. “After returning, he had decided to produce a local area summit. We both agreed that Mobile was ripe for something like this to help entrepreneurs recharge, learn and maybe take their businesses to the next level.”
Conkle went on to say that although all of the speakers at this year’s event were from the local region, long-term goals include attracting national industry leaders to the Port City for future summits. Roughly 100 ticket holders filtered in en masse during the day for the kickoff, which, per Conkle, was in line with what the partners were hoping to draw for a fledgling audience.
“Think about why you go to conferences; it is normally for education and networking. Many [attendees] do a terrible job at networking,” Conkle said. “We wanted to set this apart as an opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs from the region as well as allow the audience to fully interact with facilitators. It is not common, in my experience, to visit a summit and be able to network in-depth with a speaker afterwards.”
More information about the annual event can be found at gulfcoastbizcon.com.
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