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‘Big Sell’ gives creators chance to pitch the next big thing

Updated: April 22, 2013 11:50AM



MERRILLVILLE — Have a great idea for a product or service, but not much business acumen to get it off the ground?

That’s no problem for the backers of The Big Sell, an entrepreneurship competition which kicks off Saturday morning at the Radisson Star Plaza.

Fifty budding entrepreneurs from across the country will pitch new products for a chance to win cash and business services.

The competition, sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurship Success at Purdue University Calumet, started three years ago. The Center’s director Dushan Nikolovski said the competition was envisioned as regional platform for local entrepreneurs and encouraging entrepreneurs to develop their products in Northwest Indiana.

“You don’t need to do a full business plan; you don’t even need a prototype,” Nikolovski said.

The competitors will have two minutes apiece to pitch their products to the audience starting at 9 a.m. The audience will vote and cull down the competitors to 10 finalists. After lunch, four judges will listen to the finalists’ pitches and determine the winners.

Cash prizes are $3,000 for first place, $2,000 for second place and $1,000 for third place. But Nikolovski said the real value in the competition comes from the thousands of dollars in accounting, marketing, legal, business plan, IT consulting and office space at the Hammond Innovation Center that comes with finishing in the top three.

“The whole thing is mentoring, so we’re not just throwing money at people,” Nikolovski said. “It’s a process, so we can grow with them. Students in my (fall) business plan course will work with three winners.”

Nikolovski said this year’s applicants will present a mixture of products — from medical devices to Internet ideas to an umbrella.

Not every competitor goes on to fame and fortune, but Valparaiso resident and Big Sell alumnus Doug Meese has launched his online camp registration business to considerable success. Meese recently sold his business to a competitor for an undisclosed amount. Meese finished outside the top 10 in the 2011 competition, but he was the only one to be approached by the judges, who wanted to invest in his company.

“I had clients already, and it wasn’t the greatest service to illustrate on a slide,” Meese said. “Dushan puts on a great program and gives us great exposure, and people are coming from across the country looking for an opportunity.”

Judges for the competition are NIPSCO Director of Economic Development Don Babcock, Peoples Bank Chairman and CEO David Bochnowski, South Shore Convention and Visitor Authority President Speros Batistatos, and medical device entrepreneur James Dreher, who is the keynote speaker at the event.

Babcock said the experience of watching the pitches is exciting.

“The exciting part is being able to see a broad range of ideas,” Babcock said. “They bring a lot of passion and there’s a lot of energy in the room generated. We look at whether they have a good product that is new and innovative and whether they could beat out competition relative to similar product.”

Babcock said economic development includes both attracting businesses to Northwest Indiana and encouraging the next business idea locally.



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