Annual Business Competition Goes Virtual Next Month

SALISBURY – A local competition that assists business startups will go virtual this spring.

Last week, organizers of the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation Shore Hatchery Program announced its annual entrepreneurship competition would go virtual next month.

On May 7, entrepreneurs will vie for their share of $200,000 in business funding during the 14th round of a 10-year, $2 million program to create new jobs. However, competitors will pitch their business ideas via Zoom, a video conferencing program.

Shore Hatchery Director Bill Burke, Salisbury University’s executive director for entrepreneurship and economic development, said the competition will be moved to a virtual format for the first time in the program’s history. Instead of having judges and competitors come to the Salisbury University campus, participants will be invited to a Zoom video conference, where they will present their entrepreneurial efforts.

“Last week and this week I was on several calls with other programs throughout Maryland and throughout the United States and many of them are doing the same thing,” he said. “As opposed to canceling the competition and saying, ‘We can’t do it,’ it’s inspiring to see the entrepreneurial competition programs stepping up and saying, ‘Let’s continue to do this, to award and recognize our entrepreneurs.’”

The Shore Hatchery competition – administered through Salisbury University’s Franklin P. Perdue School of Business – is open to any mid-Atlantic business startup and assists entrepreneurs in creating new jobs in the region. Burke said the program has awarded funding to 58 entrepreneurs since its inception in 2013.

“Those entrepreneurs have created 373 jobs, and they have reported upwards of $26 million in annual revenue for the year 2019,” he said. “We are not totally responsible for all that happening, but it’s a good indicator that the judges are selecting good entrepreneurs that are making a big economic impact.”

The Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation Shore Hatchery Program was established with an initial $1 million contribution in 2013. In 2017, the Ratcliffe Foundation announced a second $1 million gift to continue the Shore Hatchery through spring 2023.

The goal of the program is to fund entrepreneurs and have new businesses opening within six months, with the potential of employing three or more within three years.

Up to $200,000 annually is available for those applying for grants through the Shore Hatchery program.

This semester, recipients will be selected based on Zoom presentations to the program’s board of directors.

Through the initiative, applicants representing multiple geographic territories and business sectors pitch their business ideas to the board during a “Gull Cage” competition similar to the format used for ABC-TV’s Shark Tank. Each spring and fall, the program awards a share of $100,000 to business startups.

Burke said more than 50 individuals applied to participate in the spring competition. Through a vetting process, 15 will compete for funds to grow their business.

“Typically 10% of entrepreneurs are successful,” he said. “We’ve been lucky. From those entrepreneurs we’ve selected through the competition, 90% are still successful.”

Instead of canceling this year’s competition, Burke said officials decided to hold the competition virtually “in the spirit of entrepreneurship.”

“A big part of entrepreneurship is solving problems during tough times,” he said. “This is one of those tough times, and it should be a time for entrepreneurs to excel … In this new world we are dealing with, there are tremendous opportunities for innovation. You see it every day.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

Alternative Text

Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.