Business leaders launch Grow America

Mar 14 2012 - 6:16am

SALT LAKE CITY -- A group of Utah business leaders has decided to spur the economy and boost job growth at the grass roots level through entrepreneurship.

During a Tuesday morning news conference on the top floor of Zions Bank office building in downtown Salt Lake City, the business leaders officially launched the Grow America springboard competition.

Entrepreneurs will have a chance to compete for a piece of $1 million in prize money and services.

Grow America is the idea of MarketStar founder Alan E. Hall. After selling MarketStar, Hall went on to create Grow Utah, which helped support entrepreneurship in the state.

"Think of it as Grow Utah on steroids," Hall said.

Along with partners from Zions Bank, Comcast, KUTV2 and Larry H. Miller Group, Hall hopes to see Grow America grow across the country, thereby creating thousands of jobs. They hope to add partners and sponsors in the future.

"I strongly believe the key to economic recovery in the U.S. and Utah is entrepreneurship," Hall said. "We believe we can kick-start the economy by helping people to kick-start ideas."

The current competition is open to residents of Utah and will be split into three categories: getting ideas off the ground, providing support for start-up companies and expanding existing companies.

Curtis Funk, CEO of Tukios, a Layton-based company specializing in creating tribute videos, has benefited from such competitions in the past.

Participating in such a competition, Funk said, helps companies get exposure, gain credibility and access to resources they normally do not have, such as mentors in the business community.

"Whether we win the competition or not, we had access to resources," Funk said. "Just everything you need to get started from the ground up."

Win or lose, a company also gets recognized.

"It makes you seem bigger than you are," Funk said. "It adds that comfort and credibility for your customers."

Kisstixx is another company that has benefitted from business competitions. The company earned an investment from billionaire Mark Cuban on the TV show "Shark Tank."

Kisstixx sells compatible lip balm flavors like Fire & Ice, Sweet & Sour, and Peaches & Cream that create a surprising change of flavor when they come together.

Kisstixx Vice President Mike Buonomo helped found the lip balm company with Dallas Robinson, a fellow student at Utah Valley University.

He said the connections, resources and mentorships help start-up companies keep costs down.

"It's super beneficial to our business model," Buonomo said, "even if it's a few pennies, it all adds up."

Both companies are considering entering the Grow America competition as well.

In the first round going through April 6, contestants must register and submit their ideas. In round 2, April 14-23, contestants will submit a video and full business plan. During the final round on May 21, the contestants will give a live presentation, including a two-minute question and answer session with judges.

The state championships will occur in early 2013. Four awards will be presented in each of the three categories, as well as first-, second-and-third place awards within the categories. During the state competition, an additional award for each category will be given to the presentation that receives the most crowd votes.

"We're looking for everyone who has something to gain by being a business owner," Hall said.

Comcast Spotlight Regional Vice President Steve Lindsley said more programs like this are needed because it is up to the community to make sure the economy improves.

Unlike pitching to a venture capitalist or other investors, Lindsley said Grow America does not take any equity in the companies. The participating companies are free to do as they see fit with the money and assistance they receive.

"This is about doing the right thing, because it is the right thing to do," Lindsley said.

For more information or to get an application visit www.growam.com.

Information from the Associated Press contrubuted to this article.

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