In an effort to spur local food, forestry and farm business development, Strolling of the Heifers and Vermont Technical College have teamed up to host the 2013 Vermont Food/Farm Business Competition.
This year, competitors who develop the most viable business plans and marketing strategies will have the chance to win cash prizes from a pot of $60,000.
So far, over 60 applicants have enrolled in the competition and time still remains to sign up for orientation, which starts Tuesday, for those who want to try their hand at building a business plan.
“It’s fun, and the whole goal and purpose of this is to create new business and employ more people in Vermont,” said Orly Munzing, Strolling of the Heifers executive director and founder.
The competition offers multiple prizes totaling $60,000 and is split into three categories: new, existing and student.
New businesses refer to those in early development or with less than six months of operation with low revenue. Existing businesses have to show at least six months of revenue that does not surpass $500,000 a year.
The student category allows students enrolled at any Vermont college-level institution to enter.
For new and existing categories, there is a $10,000 first prize, $8,000 second prize, $5,000 third prize and two runner-up $1,500 prizes. For the student categories there is a $4,000 first prize, $2,000 second prize and two $1,000 runner-up prizes.
A three-page business prospectus is due March 8 and judges will draw finalists for each category March 20. Finalists — with assistance from the Vermont Small Business Development Centers and Southeast Vermont Community Action — will then create a detailed business plan due May 22, and on the morning of June 5, presentations will be made at Marlboro College Graduate Center in Brattleboro.
Organizers of the program and former participants agree the competition gives crucial insight into the creation and management of a business from experts in the food business.
“The best exercise of this whole thing is the expert technical support that participants receive in writing a business plan, developing a pitch plan, a script — the whole process in presenting their idea,” Munzing said.
In 2011, the owners of Big Picture Farm in Townshend, Louisa Conrad and Lucas Farrell, won top honors in the farm and food competition for their goat milk caramel.
“Our business plan was sort of a mess even after we submitted it,” Farrell said during a phone interview. “Everything was a total disaster; submitting ideas and coming up with a financial perspective was foreign to us.”
Before they applied to the competition, Farrell and Conrad were selling “sporadically” to five stores throughout New England and at the Brattleboro farmers market. They only had three goats and were losing every fourth batch — Conrad had to hand stir the caramel.
After hearing about the competition through a friend, and realizing that their unique product had earned interest from at least a few business, they decided to enter the competition and ended up taking the $5,000 prize, which bought them a caramel cooker.
“They took this really unformed heap of information and were able to make sense or shine a little bit of light on it and bring some expertise to the situation,” Farrell continued.
Now, Big Picture Farm has 25 goats and a 20-acre plot. It sold to over 200 stores last year and is adding new sellers weekly.
Steve Paddock, a contest organizer and director of VTC’s Enterprise Center, said former competitors walk away with a much better sense of how to achieve business goals.
“One of the things that this competition does is motivate people and make them get their act together,” Paddock said.
To enter the contest, applicants can register at www.strollingoftheheifers.com
and read full rules and regulations.