October 14, 2015

SBDC hosting first round of InnovateHER Challenge

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The competition is on to find the most innovative products and services designed specifically to have a positive impact on the lives of women and families. 

The InnovateHER Challenge is a national contest and Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Illinois Small Business Development Center is hosting a first-round competition with the winner advancing toward the final competition where thousands of dollars in prize money is up for grabs. 

The competition at SIU involves three steps. Contestants must meet with a counselor from SIU’s SBDC by Oct. 23 and then submit a business plan between Oct. 26 and Nov. 16. Then, each contestant will present a short “pitch” for his or her business beginning at 10 a.m. on Nov. 17 at the center, located in the Dunn-Richmond Economic Development Center at 1740 Innovation Drive in Carbondale. A panel of local entrepreneurs and regional stakeholders will serve as judges for the competition. 

The winner will receive a prize package that includes cash and professional business consulting services. The top contestant will also advance to the semi-final round of the InnovateHER Challenge. Ultimately, 10 finalists from around the country will travel to Washington, D.C., for the InnovateHER 2016: Innovating for Women Business Challenge and Summit, where they will vie for $70,000 in prize money provided by Microsoft.  The finals will take place March 16-17, 2016. 

“The demands on women and families continue to grow in the United States. And, when any demand grows, the need for providing solutions to that demand grows. InnovateHER is a unique challenge that we’re happy to offer in Southern Illinois,” Robyn Laur Russell, director of business development and international trade at SIU, said. “Some great examples of inventions created by women include the time-saving dishwasher, the energy-conserving circular saw and the problem-solving windshield wiper. The APGAR test performed on all babies immediately following birth was also invented by a woman. The competition isn’t just for women either. Rather, their product or service just needs to be geared toward women and families. The goal of InnovateHER is to encourage regional entrepreneurs to present their product or service that will not only fulfill a need in the marketplace, but that also has the potential to be commercialized.” 

Officials say women now constitute nearly half of the country’s labor force and play a vital role in its economic prosperity, often while caring for aging parents and/or children. The necessity for products and services created with the challenges and needs of women and their families is growing and that’s what this competition is all about. 

For more information, or to schedule a meeting with an SBDC counselor to begin the entry process, call 618/536-2424. 

The U.S. Small Business Administration is the event sponsor. Additional details about the SBA and the InnovateHER competition are available online at www.sba.gov/InnovateHER. 

The Illinois Small Business Development Center/International Trade Center is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and hosted by SIU. For more information about the center or the many services it provides to new and expanding businesses, visit www.sbdc.siu.edu, call 618/536-2424 or email sbdc@siu.edu